Talent Is Overrated – Geoff Colvin (Book Summary)

Is there such thing as a true inborn talent?

Or there is something more in it rather than just a set of random predispositions that each of us has?

The author of the book cites research that refutes the value of early innate ability and gives numerous examples of very hard work that leads to high achievement.

Why You Should Read Talent Is Overrated?

  • To find out what it takes to become a world-class performer
  • To understand what deliberate practice is and how to utilize it
  • To beat your competitors and get new admirers
talent is overrated 3d cover

Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Check the book on Amazon or, browse my Top 10 Books

The Book in One Paragraph

Great performance doesn’t come from inborn talents. Talent and inborn abilities are not nearly as important as quality time spent on deliberate practice.

The intense, deliberate practice of the best performers is based on clear goals, careful analysis, clear feedback, and multilevel systematic work.

The real gift of genius is the ability to practice decisively. You can improve your ability to innovate by realizing that even talent is not a guarantee of high performance.

However, the harsh demands of deliberate practice are so painful that very few people are able to handle it.

Lessons I Have Learned

  • Lesson #1: Ten years of deliberate practice lead to mastery.
  • Lesson #2: Deliberate practice is much more important than talent.
  • Lesson #3: Early starters tend to outperform late starters.
  • Lesson #4: The teacher’s feedback is extremely important. It stimulates constant improvements.
  • Lesson #5 You shouldn’t go overboard and practice too much. Five hours a day is a top.

How The Book Changed Me

  • It helped me realize what it really takes to become a world-class professional.
  • It made me consider planning out my own journey to mastery in two fields – BJJ and Muay Thai
  • It encouraged me to develop a blueprint for my children’s deliberate practice sessions.

Talent Is Overrated Summary + Key Ideas

As you’ve already learned from the points above, Talent Is Overrated is a kind of book that certainly has something to offer even to the most educated and sophisticated reader.

Down below, I’ve listed the most important ideas, concepts, and insights from the book that I hope you will find useful and helpful.

Let’s get started with the first key idea:

Key Idea #1:  World’s top performers tend to start at a younger age

Kid Studying at home

If you ask ordinary people to explain how the greats in the arts, business, athletics and science acquired their gifts, they will surely say that God or nature has endowed these stars with an almost unnatural level of talent and skill.

However, recent research has shown that great results are less talent-driven than you might think. Researchers are finding that highly successful people fill their lives with focused, smart, well-chosen hard work and practice, not just in spurts, but over and over again.

These great talents strive to improve their performance throughout their lives.

Mozart and Tiger Woods were geeks, but they both worked hard as children. Directed, focused work and practice during childhood also figure strongly in Warren Buffett’s biography.

He was close to his father, a stockbroker, and started working in his office at the age of 11. In his youth, he focused on money and investment and later sought a better professional education.

This combination of evidence suggests rethinking the concept of innate talent and adopting a more complex equation that includes other factors of varying importance.

They are time, persistence, and the ability to follow the main rules of deliberate practice.

Why do geeks exist in music and mathematics, but not in literature or particle physics?

Since it takes thousands of hours of work to become an expert in any field, children can only become geeks in areas where they can do their job.

Real mastery requires adulthood and life experience. Professionals need time to develop creative ideas.

Key Idea #2:  Hard Work and Practice Always Beat Talent and IQ

practicing playing musical instrument

A study on the IQ of people who do well shows that while some are brilliant, others are simply smart, and some are even below the general intelligence average.

Obviously, these people have exceptional critical skills in their fields, but IQ tests may not measure these factors very well.

Successful people seem to be very smart. But … the connection between intelligence and high achievement is nowhere near as strong as we usually think.

Most of the top performers also have exceptional memories. Years of memorizing material develop their ability to memorize.

In addition, their empirical perception helps them remember items in appropriate groups and patterns that fit their purpose.

It is important to understand that most of these abilities are acquired or earned through deliberate practice.

Through training, you can expand the range of your singing voice, but you cannot completely change it.

So you can’t grow one or two meters taller to play professional basketball, but you can develop more skills and add more capabilities than you probably think, even though it takes a special kind of hard work.

Identify specific abilities that you needed to improve and find ways, including great coaching, to develop those abilities step by step.

Key Idea #3: Deliberate Practice is the key to success


Think about how you do something that you care about, such as boxing.

  • Are you just shadowboxing as fast as you can?
  • Or do you beat the hell out of the punching bag?

This is not what Floyd Mayweather does. He carefully analyzes the elements of his game and develops specific exercises to improve these elements. He trains a variety of skills outside of the ring to develop the strength, flexibility, and endurance needed to fight during 12 rounds at his superior level.

Deliberate practice requires someone to identify certain well-defined performance elements that need to be improved and then work on them carefully.

Good performers pay a lot of attention to detail and constantly repeat small activities and movements, even those they only use occasionally. They know greatness requires all skills when the game is at stake.

They seek feedback from teachers, trainers, observers, and clients and do not rely solely on their own perceptions. Great performers put in the physical and mental stress even when they don’t want to or find much pleasure in it because they know that complete preparation is vital to achieving the best results.

Whether their performance is a gift or a byproduct of some other pursuit, they develop the painstaking skills to rely on their preparation and free their minds to overcome the details and demands of the upcoming competition.

Deliberate practice develops your skills and abilities in several different ways:

  • “Remember more”. Experience allows you to see the internal structure and retain more information about your work. High performance and strong memory go hand in hand because you can use past events and details to inform your current decisions.
  • “Perceive more.” Instead of just seeing the problem, you see it in context with all its subtleties. This allows you to anticipate your actions and make better choices.
  • “Learn More”. Deliberate practice develops your skills at every level and in every element of high performance, so you are more experienced and professional than your competitors because you worked harder and smarter than them.

High performance is hard to achieve; maintaining such performance is extremely difficult, especially because the bar for measuring excellent performance is raised when the overall quality of performance improves.

Putting It All Together

In terms of excellent performance, sharp focus, hard work, and a solid memory seem to matter more than a high IQ and inborn skills.

Talent is a factor in your career, but a poor indicator of your future achievements.

Deliberate practice is the most important aspect of the game.

Deliberate practice involves setting a clear goal, analyzing the elements of success, and developing a program to achieve excellence in each element.

The most successful people seek detailed feedback that will help them perform better.

Good work is based on deliberate practice inspired by inner passion.

Going Beyond the Summary

You wouldn’t expect me to leave you with the book summary alone, would you?

There are some extra materials I would like to share with you.

They might make a great addition to the knowledge you gained from the summary above.

So if you are up to going down the rabbit hole, I suggest you the following resources.

Recommended Reading

If you like Talent Is Overrated, you may also enjoy the following books:

Purchase the Original Book

There is always much more to discover from the full-text books.

Most of the time, you will even find some additional ideas and insights that have almost nothing to do with the book’s main topic.

So if you found my summary helpful and the book worth your time, consider buying the original version on Amazon or browse for more book summaries to discover more promising titles.

Additional References

  1. Talent Development in Adolescent Team Sports by Darren J. Burgess and Geraldine A. Naughton
  2. Developing Talent in Young People by Benjamin Bloom
  3. The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk