“哪儿来的天才?” / "Talent Is Overrated"

“哪儿来的天才?”

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.

杰奥夫•科尔文(图左)和本文作者 / Geoff Colvin (left) and Sibuxiang

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.)。

这本书最早在2008年发行了英文版,现在已被译成多种语言,中文版是由中信出版社(CITIC Press)出版发行的。

第一次遇到科尔文大概是在十年前出席财富全球论坛的时候,当时他是好几个活动的演讲嘉宾兼主持人,之后我又在很多美国及国际上的高端活动中看到科尔文担任演讲者或主持人。

科尔文是一位出类拔萃的演说家:讲话行云流水,表达清晰,不用讲稿就能轻松、流畅地传达出令人难忘的信息。他将高超的演讲艺术表现得貌似简单自然,但凡是有过演讲经历的人都知道,这其实绝非易事。

除担任财富全球论坛的金牌主持以外,科尔文还主持了很多讲座,并为《财富》杂志撰写特稿,同时定期为“价值驱动”(Value Driven)专栏担任主笔,还经常出任媒体评论员。他在《哪儿来的天才》一书的鸣谢部分中写道,该书实际上是由他为《财富》撰写的一篇重头文章衍生而来。

尽管如此,科尔文的为人十分谦虚且脚踏实地。在晚宴中,我问他已经为《财富》效力多少年了,他回答道:“才32年,比不上卡萝尔•卢米丝那些老记者,他们都干了50多年了。”

科尔文在北京晚宴上的演讲之所以影响巨大,并非只是由于他的口才了得或是作为商业评论员的地位显赫,还因为他围绕人才的演讲主题引起了在座者及通过微博关注此次演讲的全国网友的广泛兴趣。

科尔文在书中研究的问题和得出的结论在职场领袖和经理人中引起了深刻的共鸣,也激发了青年才俊的灵感。即使是在家庭生活中,该书也对寻找开发子女能力良方的父母们产生了巨大的吸引力。

过去35年我参加过不计其数的午餐会和晚餐会,但不记得还有哪次晚餐会的全体主桌嘉宾——包括很多知名机构的高管在内——在演讲过程中始终认真做着记录。这表明他们对演讲的兴趣之高。

科尔文在其著作和演讲的开篇中探讨了我们所见过的极少数天才的成才之路,科学家、音乐家、运动员、棋手也好,商界精英也好,这些人成就非凡表现的奥秘何在。对于人们普遍认为这种成功只属于天才(先天注定)或干才(后天努力)的看法,他给予了认真的研究和分析。

在寻求支持或拆穿这两种普遍观点的研究数据的过程中,科尔文论证指出,在成就非凡的过程中,这两种解释都不足以成为最终的或者始终不变的制胜法宝。

换言之,杰出人才如何才能达到这一高度必定还有更好的解释。

而从专家研究中得出的更好的解释叫做“刻意练习”,科尔文用一个又一个例证说明了“刻意练习”如何得以成为杰出人才的共性。

刻意练习(相对于更为普通的练习形式)具备四个特征:首先是为满足改善某方面的行为需求而专门设计;其次是可以不断推动人们超越现有水平的极限;第三是可以多次重复练习;最后是需要从教练、导师或类似专家那里获得经常不断的反馈。

作者以著名音乐家为例,指出他们出神入化的演奏离不开数万小时的苦练,而这种情况也不仅限于音乐界。从股神巴菲特,到国象大师卡斯帕罗夫,再到“老虎”伍兹,所有超级成功者都经历了漫长的刻意练习才达到了胜利的巅峰。

也就是说,通往成功顶峰的道路漫长而且艰险,登顶时刻可能让人欣喜不已,但攀登过程却绝非乐事。

这让我们想起有关成就的两个重要哲学问题,而科尔文也以此作为演讲的结尾。

首先,你到底想要得到什么?换句话说,你是否愿意付出可能失去幸福安康的家庭生活的代价,去换取在自己的领域成为顶尖人物的成就?(事实表明,很多成功人士都在专业领域中花费了太多的时间,以至于无暇顾及自己的生活和家人。)

其次,你到底相信什么?如果你仍旧抱着成事在天的想法,不相信刻意练习,肯定就不会有决心、有毅力承受长期练习所需作出的牺牲。换句话说,你自己的信念会限制住你。

这是作者留给读者和听众的一个绝佳的问题,也是激励人们成功的核心所在,无论对普通人、父母、还是领导都是如此;值得人们深思。

我强烈推荐《哪来的天才?》一书,它是当下的领导、经理人、为人父母和师长者必读的一本好书。

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.


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