What It Takes to Be Great – Does Talent Matter?

Click on the 2-minute video intro above (you’ll see me in a fun spot), then view the article below (actually by Geoffrey Colvin from 2006 but shared with me this weekend!), and come back and leave a comment on the key questions raised that are very relevant to how you approach your life, health, or business today!

Secrets of Greatness – Is Talent Irrelevant?

Pay special attention to the example of the golfer and the bowler, and then ask yourself,
how can you apply these distinctions to your own life?

What are you wanting to be “great” in?

I recently spoke with a young man who told me his greatest dream is to “be the best
dad ever.”

Whatever you’re wanting to be great in, this article has some key insights…and raises
some key questions, that can set you further on your own path to greatness…and creating
the results you want.

Enjoy, and come back and leave your own take on:

What role does talent play?

How could “deliberate” practice, feedback, and frequent adjustment make a difference
in something you’re seeking to excel in?

What role does consistency play–and what factors have you found key to developing
long-term consistency and results?

Look forward to hearing from you, and to an intriguing discussion!

And here’s the article again:  Secrets of Greatness – Is Talent Irrelevant?

Dr.  Ben

Author: Dr. Ben

I'm a doc who was gone in the office, then found a way to be home with my wife and now 7 kids, while making a difference in people's lives around the globe. I love good books, adventures with my family, dark chocolate with coconut, & empowering moms & dads to create a business and ultimately, a life they love. Learn more at www.drbenlo.com or contact me directly at drbenlo7@gmail.com . I look forward to connecting with you!

15 thoughts on “What It Takes to Be Great – Does Talent Matter?”

  1. Consistency in daily practice of a new skill helps me create a new habit in my life. I have made the biggest shifts in results from taking massive action. Practicing 5-6 hours a day makes quicker shifts in me. Practicing only 1-2 hours a day would take me a lot longer to learn a new skill and create new habits. What keeps me in the game long term? It’s working with a team of leaders who share their successes and show me and others what’s possible.

  2. Thanks for sharing your strategies, Anita–and yes, team and partners are key to excelling beyond ourselves in virtually every arena!

    Pete, look forward to hearing your insights!

  3. Interesting article. Thanks for pointing me to it. My experience differs, though. I work in the area of my natural talent.

    When I was seven years old, I asked my dad to set up a card table and chairs in the garage so I could have a little school for the other kids in the neighborhood. I invited four younger kids on my block to come over for my school the next day. My mom helped me round up paper, pencils, crayons, and elbow macaroni and string. I also brought out the pink plastic shoe I’d learned to tie my shoes on.

    By the next morning, I was leading those kids in drawing, coloring, learning to tie their shoes, and making macaroni necklaces. A career was born!

    In the third grade, I volunteered to work with the class of mentally disabled children in my school. By junior high, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. My first career, for my first 4 years out of college, was as a high school English teacher. I then moved into the corporate world, consult and train. And, I founded a speaking, consulting and training firm in 1995.

    It all started with a little seven year-old girl who somehow knew what she loved to do and what her innate talent was.

    Conversely, when getting my Master’s Degree in Business, I had to take calculus. Despite a study group, a tutor, help from the teacher, and an inordinate amount of time studying, I did poorly, although I had A’s in all my other classes. My brain doesn’t work that way. It’s not a strength area for me.

    With clients, I find that when they put people in roles that leverage their natural talents, they get better performance, and happier employees.

  4. Appreciate your thoughtful comments, Ava. Looks like you highlight a key – “It all started with a little seven year-old girl who somehow knew what she loved to do and what her innate talent was. ”

    The article leaves open the question of what leads someone to put the time in to develop excellence/greatness…your experience parallels what I’m observing in the biography I’m reading of Warren Buffett – he put LOTS of time into reading annual reports, studying companies, and essentially becoming the best…BUT it sounds like it wasn’t work to him or something he “made” himself do…it was what he loved to do and indeed had some natural affinity for…similar to Gary Vaynerchuk with Wine Library TV. I recently re-listened to an interview of Gary by Rich Schefren from 2007, and one of the keys to his success he gives was choosing an area that he loved and had a passion for…becuase that’s what kept him going past any “bumps”…at the same time, his new book (Crush It) indicates he did devote a lot of time to really developing his skills into becoming an expert.

    So looks like it’s a combo of time and practice built in an area that someone already has an innate interest in or affinity for…

    Here’s a further question for anyone reading – does love for something/interest in something and “talent” for something go together…or can one or the other be developed?

  5. Thanks for this resource, Ben. In my experience, people are not highly interested in or love something they lack a talent for.

    Any coach who has helped people identify their core passions or assisted them on the journey to their highest purpose combines the question, “What are you good at?” with questions like, “What lights you on fire?”; “What activity causes you to lose connection with a sense of time?”; and “What could you spend your day reading or talking about?” The answers to these questions often lie in revisiting skills, talents, aptitudes and interests people had as children.

    For me, this article highlighted the power of PROCESS. In my performance management work, strategies (& the routines that protect them so you can consistently perform at a high level) are at the heart of ‘deliberate practice’. Each performance is followed with a strategy review, to consciously embrace what is working and tweak what is not.

    ~When you focus on the process, the results not only follow, but increase significantly.

  6. Interesting article and discussion, Ben. I don’t think the answer is an either-or scenario, though.

    As a coach, it’s important to me that I help clients identify their strengths. Many times, these strengths are also what some would call a “natural talent.” I think it’s important to leverage these ine very way possible to help achieve their goals.

    That said, I also buy into the fact that hard work has it’s place as well. In the book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes abiut ten thousand hours to become an expert at anything. He cites athletes, scholars, professionals and others to illustrate his point. Certainly, some of these people may have leveraged natural talents, but they also used that as a starting point, growing and improving from there.

    As with anything, there will always be an exception to every rule. I’m sure there’s a child prodigy pianist out there who isn’t as passionate about piano as he nay be about something else. He’s simply gifted. Likewise, I’m sure there’s someone out there who worked every angle of improvement, despite some sort of disadvantage, only to become a raging success.

    For the rest of us that are somewhere in the middle. I think it’s important to identify strengths, talents and passions, further refine them, and determine how they can be leveraged to accomplish our goals.

  7. Thanks for your insights, Mollie, and for adding some key questions for people to ask themselves (or people they’re coaching)! I noted something else you brought forward in your parentheses – “routines that protect them (strategies) so you can consistently perform at a high level” – another area many people don’t practice…but successful people do…is putting these routines in place. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  8. Ah…yes…the power of “and” rather than “either-or” – thanks, Erin! You highlight the power of leveraging both natural talent and interest. Here’s more food for tho’t–are there times that passion for a specific outcome can keep one engaged in processes that might seem awkward/uncomfortable at first to the point that mastery is achieved, and others’ look on and think “that person’s just gifted more than me”?

    Or another way to ask this–is it possible that sometimes the “gift” is not always the raw talent, but a drive and a passion that leads to developing excellence? And is this drive something that can be chosen & developed…or is it more a matter of “discovering” and aligning with a passion/drive that’s already there, even if dormant?

    I remember Tony Robbins saying when he first started speaking, he wasn’t that good…but he had a big vision, and he scheduled himself to speak 3 times/day so that in a month he had a lot more experience (“deliberate practice” and “adjustment”, if you will) than many speakers in a year, and he developed excellence very quickly…

  9. Ben,

    This is a great discussion. I appreciat the opportunity to add a couple of disparate thoughts to the thread. There are a number of good points in the article. I like the input provided by both Erin and Mollie and respect both their wisdom immensely.

    I periodically look closely at the role of talent as it relates to ‘mastery’. I’ve weighed the pros and cons as it related to my geriactric athletic pursuits, new hobbies and leadership in general. I historically questioned if some are born with innate ‘Talents’ that positioned them to achieve certain pinnacles that others could not? Certain genetic benefits aside, I’m not a believer in inborn talent. In fact, I think it’s a crutch that many use to substantiate a fear or doubt that they may have. This belief presupposes certain primers that must be in place in order to pursue mastery in the first place (desire, alignment with purpose, etc.)

    As it relates to focus, dedication and longitudinal commitments, I concur fully that maniacal dedication to an art form (business, personal, etc) is essential if mastery is to be achieved (e.g. Outliers/Gladwell). I also recognize that each of us has gifts/leanings that can form the underpinnings of the purpose and passion that fuel our ability to commit to the necessary long haul. [Side Note: My perspectives are also shaped, in part, by my convictions as a christian that each of us has a unique calling]

    On a separate note, I recently read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’. This was a real eye opener for me and brought a decided biological baseline to this whole discussion of ‘Talent’. In fact, in my opinion it took a lot of the mystery out of the talent vs. skill vs. mastery question. In short, presuming the desire exists, we can learn and master anything we put our minds to (myelization). I loved this book.

    Again, thanks for the opportunity to add a couple of thoughts.


  10. Appreciate the contribution, Mark! The concept of using talent, or lack thereof, as a “crutch”, as well as the spiritual aspect of calling, and in particular “myelization” and Daniel Coyle’s book–I’m not familiar with that one and look forward to checking it out! That’s a very encouraging and door-opening conclusion – “In short, presuming the desire exists, we can learn and master anything we put our minds to (myelization).”

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