(The link is to the paperback which comes out in May 2010 – there is a hardcover available now)
I read this book back in July and since then I’ve thought about it on almost a daily basis. The hypothesis, stated by itself, sounds fairly ridiculous because it comes down to: There is no such thing as talent. Perhaps I feel so strongly and was so influenced by the book because I’ve kind of always felt it was true, but presented in the book are studies that provide the kind of evidence I’ve always believed in a more anecdotal way.
My personal favorite example (not presented in the book) is Michael Jordan. Say what you will about Jordan (and if you don’t know why I qualify it that way, then don’t worry about), but he practiced, and practiced right. I’m sure there were people who spent more time playing basketball than Jordan in high school (okay, I’m not actually sure about that, but it’s possible), but Jordan, like Jerry Rice – who is actually used as an example in the book, used his time most efficiently.
There is the well known story of Jordan getting “cut” from his high school varsity team as a freshman (but mostly because freshman weren’t allowed to be on varsity – I know how that is). As a result of that slight, Jordan would go to the gym early every day and practice. Did he have talent? I would argue no, and that’s why it’s so hard to explain Talent Is Overrated. Most people would scoff at the notion that Michael Jordan didn’t have some natural talent. But I would say he didn’t.
Did he have a genetic disposition for height that made him grow to 6′ 5″ (or however tall he actually was)? Yes.
Did he have a very strong work ethic? Yes.
Did he have a natural talent for basketball? No. He just combined the two factors above and decided he wanted to play basketball.
I would argue that anyone with his height and the same strong work ethic could be the best in the world at playing basketball. Anyone who disagrees with that probably underestimates Jordan’s work ethic. He didn’t get better simply because he was destined to become the best basketball player ever. He got better because he wanted to become the best basketball player ever, and he wanted it more than anyone else.
Yes, he played in a time when the media exposure was just right, and he played on a team that was able to put people around him who also worked hard and were able to play like Jordan wanted them to play.
If you think I’m biased… well of course I am. But I’m not the only one. Someone else wrote a book about it and cited studies from people who were researching the same idea.
If you don’t think there’s a chance you’ll ever believe that people aren’t born with innate talent, then don’t bother reading Talent Is Overrated. But if you think that maybe the people who are the best at what they do got that way because they worked hard and worked smart, then I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.