World-class Talent = Deliberate Practice + 10,000 hours

Demystifying Talent 

What’s the connection between the following?:

There’s no connection right? I mean Yo-Yo Ma was a natural born genius on the cello. Tiger Woods is a natural born genius with a golf club in his hand. And you? You are just you, right?

Well, most people would think that Yo-Yo Ma displayed his brilliance on the cello because he was born with a natural facility with cello music. Everyone thinks Tiger woods is so good at golf because he was born that way. In the last decade or so, social scientists and researchers have brought compelling evidence on how we view ‘natural born talent.’ This idea behind becoming a world-class expert through a combination of deliberate practice and 10,000 hours is recently covered in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.

 VIDEOS | Illustrations of Talent = Deliberate Practice + Time

Deliberate Practice 
If inborn talent does not confer much credence into world-class talent, how can we make sense of this? Researchers have converged on an answered. It’s something they call “deliberate practice” – but beware it isn’t what most of us think of as practice. It isn’t just hard work either. Deliberate practice is unique type of activity that is characterized by several factors that together form a powerful whole.

  • Practice designed specifically to improve performance
  • Deliberate practice can be repeated a lot
  • Practice with the help of a teacher and mentor
  • Feedback on results is continuously available
  • It’s highly demanding mentally and physically
  • It involves careful reflection on performance after practice sessions are completed.

Now here are some real-world examples that Colvin illustrates and also the application of the business side of things.

Real World Examples

“All this scholarly research is simply evidence for what great performers have been showing us for years. To take a handful of examples: Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s greatest orators, practiced his speeches compulsively. Vladimir Horowitz supposedly said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” He was certainly a demon practicer, but the same quote has been attributed to world-class musicians like Ignace Paderewski and Luciano Pavarotti.

Many great athletes are legendary for the brutal discipline of their practice routines. In basketball, Michael Jordan practiced intensely beyond the already punishing team practices. (Had Jordan possessed some mammoth natural gift specifically for basketball, it seems unlikely he’d have been cut from his high school team.)
In football, all-time-great receiver Jerry Rice – passed up by 15 teams because they considered him too slow – practiced so hard that other players would get sick trying to keep up.

Tiger Woods is a textbook example of what the research shows. Because his father introduced him to golf at an extremely early age – 18 months – and encouraged him to practice intensively, Woods had racked up at least 15 years of practice by the time he became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship, at age 18. Also in line with the findings, he has never stopped trying to improve, devoting many hours a day to conditioning and practice, even remaking his swing twice because that’s what it took to get even better.”

The Business Side

The evidence, scientific as well as anecdotal, seems overwhelmingly in favor of deliberate practice as the source of great performance. Just one problem: How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements – you can practice them all.

Still, they aren’t the essence of great managerial performance. That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information – can you practice those things too? You can, though not in the way you would practice a Chopin etude.

Instead, it’s all about how you do what you’re already doing – you create the practice in your work, which requires a few critical changes. The first is going at any task with a new goal: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it.

Report writing involves finding information, analyzing it and presenting it – each an improvable skill. Chairing a board meeting requires understanding the company’s strategy in the deepest way, forming a coherent view of coming market changes and setting a tone for the discussion. Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill.

Why? 
Why do some people put themselves into years of intensive deliberate practice that eventually  makes them exceptional? This is perhaps the most important and deepest question that deals with your inner fabric of life, that is, your guiding value system. Honestly ask yourself? Why do you strive for such greatness? Is it to merely satisfy your own individual needs or do you derive the motivation from some other higher calling? Where does this consuming desire and motivation derive from? Without a strong sense of understanding of who you are, deliberate practice and the 10,000 hours rule become only a mere technique. It is the means to the end. But, first and foremost, you must start with the end in mind. (Read Discovering Your Mission) Learn more about how you can develop your core values through reading this: Why Core Values Matter