Book Review: Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin – an important book, particularly for salespeople

This is a book that has been around for a while and has picked up some very good reviews. We agree, this is an excellent, thought provoking read, and deserves a higher profile.

Talent not being a major part of somebody’s performance make-up seems counter-intuitive. Naturally talented is a phrase we might all use about someone who can do things to an extraordinary standard. But it’s not so.

As long as you have the minimum requirement of capability to perform the task you can develop to the top decile of that particular discipline. But how you achieve that requires a very specific approach.

Firstly be prepared to put in lots of practice, at least 10,000 hours. This figure has cropped up in other research and seems to hold good. Two hours a day for (say) 360 days a year will take you over 13 years. And most world class performers have practiced a lot longer than that.

If that isn’t daunting enough the next key element is based on doing the right kind of practice. Not the typical golf practice you might do at the driving range, hitting a basket of balls for half an hour and thinking you may have improved slightly. No, this kind of practice follows five criteria:

  1. It is designed specifically to improve performance – and is measured accordingly
  2. It can be repeated a lot
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available
  4. It is highly demanding mentally
  5. It isn’t much fun – because it’s so relentless

What happens with a child prodigy? They start their 10,000 hours early and they apply this intensive regime – what Colvin calls deliberate practice.

What stands out when you read the book is how little deliberate practice goes on in the business world. You realise how threadbare the term performance coaching is.

For salespeople this is central. What is the available development stimulus for salespeople? Customer sales meetings, a few joint visits with their manager (if they’re lucky), a ragbag of sales meetings and the occasional training course are the most obvious environments. How much deliberate practice is going on here?