最近，《财富》杂志（Fortune）的首席编辑杰奥夫•科尔文来京出席了多项活动并发表演讲，其中也包括由我们的朋友——泛太平洋管理研究中心（Pan-Pacific Management Institute）举办的一场晚宴。我也有幸参加了这次晚宴，并在餐前与科尔文单独聊了一个小时。
“Talent Is Overrated”
FORTUNE Senior Editor At Large Geoff Colvin was recently in Beijing to speak at several events, including a dinner organized by our friends at Pan-Pacific Management Institute. I was fortunate to join that dinner as well as catch an hour before dinner for a one-on-one talk with Colvin.
无论是他在晚宴上的致词还是我们之间的谈话，中心话题都没有离开他的畅销书——《哪来的天才？练习中的平凡与伟大》（Talent Is Overrated – What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.）。
For both his dinner talk and our one-on-one conversation, the central topic was the same as his best-selling book, “Talent Is Overrated — What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.”
First published in English in 2008, the book is now available in many different language editions, including the Chinese edition published by CITIC Press.
I first met Colvin at a FORTUNE Global Forum about 10 years ago, where he spoke and moderated several events; and I’ve since seen him in action as a public speaker and master of ceremonies on numerous occasions in various high-level U.S. and international settings.
As a public speaker, he is among the best: smooth and articulate. With no notes in hand, he delivers a relaxed, fluent, and memorable series of messages. He makes this high level of public speaking ability look easy and natural, which we know from experience it is most definitely not.
Apart from being the lead moderator for the FORTUNE Global Forum, Colvin lectures widely, writes feature articles and a regular column for FORTUNE Magazine called “Value Driven”, and is a frequent media commentator. As he writes in the Acknowledgements section of his book, the book project was an outgrowth of a major article he wrote for FORTUNE Magazine.
Despite all this, he has a very down-to-earth, humble style. Over dinner, I asked him how many years he’d been with FORTUNE? His response: “Only 32 years. Not as long as other writers like Carol Loomis, who’ve been working there for more than 50 years.”
It’s not just his abilities as a speaker or distinguished status as a business commentator that made Colvin’s dinner talk in Beijing a huge hit. There’s something about the issues surrounding talent which has broad appeal, both those in the room and those around China who were following his talk though Weibo.
The questions examined by and conclusions reached in Colvin’s book have deep resonance in the workplace with leaders and managers, as well as aspiring young talents. In the home, they have direct appeal to parents seeking wisdom and best practices for developing the abilities of their children.
I’ve participated in countless luncheon and dinner speeches over the past 35 years, but I can’t recall another dinner speech where 100% of the guests seated at the head table — including many senior executives with big name organizations — took detailed notes throughout the presentation. That shows a very high degree of interest.
Colvin’s book, and the message of his presentation, begin by examining the mysteries surrounding the steps to achievement of the phenomenal levels of performance we see among a very small handful of extraordinary talents, whether they be scientists, musicians, athletes, chess players or business leaders. He examines the commonly held views that such performance is only possible by those with an extraordinary innate gift (ie “nature”), or by those who work incredibly hard at it (ie “nurture”).
In looking for relevant research data to support or debunk either of these two commonly held explanations, he demonstrates that neither explanation is sufficient to conclusively or consistently ensure success on the path to extraordinary greatness.
In other words, there must be a better explanation for how great performers achieve such heights.
The better explanation which emerges from expert research is called “deliberate practice”, and he convincingly shows example after example of how this is the common denominator of super high achievers.
The four hallmarks of deliberate (versus more common forms of) practice are that it be specifically designed to improve your performance in areas where that is needed; that it consistently pushes you just beyond your current performance limits; that it can be repeated a lot; and that it is accompanied by continual feedback from a coach, mentor, or similar expert figure.
Citing evidence from experts in the field of music which suggests that phenomenal musical performance can only begin after something like 10,000 hours of practice, the author says this is not unique to world of music. From Warren Buffet to grand chess master Gary Kasparov to golfer Tiger Woods, all super performers reached the heights only after long drawn out periods of deliberate practice.
In other words, reaching the heights is a long, difficult road which may be fun when you get there, but it no fun at all along the way.
Which brings us to the two important philosophical questions with regard to performance with which Colvin concludes his presentation.
First, what do you really want? In other words, do you want to be the best in the world in your field, possibly at the expense of a happy and healthy family life (since evidence shows that many top achievers spend so much time on their domain that there is little time left in their lives for anything or anyone else)?
And second, what do you really believe? If you continue to harbor the view that great performance is based on some innate gift rather than deliberate practice, then you will surely not have the determination and persistence to endure the necessary sacrifices to put in the degree of practice required over the long term. In other words, your beliefs will be self-limiting.
And that is a great question for the author to leave in readers’ and listeners’ minds, because it is squarely at the heart of what motivates us as people, as parents, and as leaders; and needs very careful deliberation.
I highly recommend “Talent Is Overrated”. It is a timely and compelling read for leaders, managers, parents, and teachers.