Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

man sitting playing accordion
Photo by James Sutton on

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin sounds like a lot of other books. In my experience, however, it’s pretty unique. Its insight and examples have come to mind many, many times in the years since I first read it, and though its message sounds pie-in-the-sky at first, it isn’t trite or obvious.

Read this book because you want to get really good at something and you aren’t yet sure you know how.

Key Takeaways

  • Extraordinary skill is not the result of intelligence, natural talent or even the sheer amount of practice one undertakes. Instead, it is the result of something the author calls deliberate practice.
  • Natural talent might not even exist; it might be a misnomer or a cultural construct. As an example, one Hungarian psychologist raised his three daughters to become chess champions to show that chess is not correlated with special talent–and they all did.
  • Mozart was likely not born with talent, even though he is widely considered to be a child prodigy. His father pushed him to learn music at a very early age, and his first works were not exceptional.
  • There is no clear correlation between smartness and job performance. Performance is more related to practice, experience and other factors.
  • Surprisingly, memory is also not grown through intelligence, but through creating or finding patterns that offer structure to the information. An example of this is found in chess: Experienced chess players can memorize a board quickly–even play blind–because they memorize the pattern of the board, not the individual pieces.
  • A better way to develop skill rather than relying on intelligence: use deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is very different from regular practice and is not always the most fun or easy way to improve. It involves practicing at a pace or level that is a bit past your current level–that pushes you somewhat. An example is an athlete who does difficult and necessary conditioning exercises every morning rather than spending that time doing what they love: playing their sport.
  • Deliberate practice helps you perceive more, so you learn more quickly. It encourages faster brain processing, faster reaction times and the ability to look further ahead.
  • There are three steps to practicing deliberately: Set challenging goals; observe your progress; and get objective feedback.
  • Applying these principles to the business world, organizations should challenge employees more rather than have them simply repeat what they’re already good at.
  • Deliberate practice is hard, and takes passion, especially at first. However, your passion grows as you receive more of the rewards that come with building your desired skill. Your sense of pride kicks in when you start to see progress, but not before. So stick with it.

About the Author

Geoff Colvin is a journalist and author who has written extensively on business and economics. His books include Talent is Overrated, which argues that deliberate practice is the key to success, and Humans are Underrated, which explores the ways in which technology is changing the nature


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.


Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.