I’ve been reading a book called Talent is overrated over the last few days, and I feel confident enough to say that this is one of the few books that changed the way I look at things.

The goal of this book is to teach you how to acquire great talent in any discipline, from sport to business to organizations. It also includes chapters on how to teach young kids, but I honestly wasn’t interested in that so I skipped them.

So where does talent come from? The book does a fantastic job describing it, but I’ll try to do my best as well and give you a good introduction here.

How to acquire great talent

If you want to acquire great talent in something, be prepared to spend several years working on it. Researchers estimated that ten years is the amount of time that it usually takes to acquire talent.

Years alone, however, are not enough. It’s also essential that you know exactly what to practice. Here’s what the author has to say about choosing what to practice:

Imagine that we have three concentric circles, the inner circle represents the comfort zone, the activities that we already know, the middle one the learning zone, and the outer one the panic zone. We can grow only if we choose activities in the learning zone.

If you want to acquire talent, you have be constantly working on activities that are in your learning zone. Doing what you already know is easy, but it wont take you anywhere.

Practice is also important. Once you’ve identified the activity that you want to do, you have to practice it as much as possible until you become very good at it (it becomes your comfort zone). When you’ve mastered the new activity, it’s then time to move on and practice something else.

Note that the author also makes a strong point about the importance of getting continuos feedbacks by teachers or mentors. It may not be easy to find a great teacher, but it turns out it’s essential if you want to acquire great talent.

A step by step guide for acquiring great talent

Even though acquiring great talent is not easy and it requires a great deal of effort, it can easily be summarized in a few steps.

  1. Know what you want. The first step is of course to know exactly what you want. Not only that, but you also have to be willing to sacrifice a good part of your life in order to acquire great talent on it. For example you might want to become a great programmer, or maybe you want to become a great martial artist. There’s no limit in what you can be, but you have to choose something.
  2. Identify what you need to learn next. Let’s say that you decided to become a great musician, what’s the next step? What is the activity that’s outside of your comfort zone that you can start practicing now in order to expand your skills? In this part having a teacher or mentor is essential, as they’ll have more experience than you and they’ll be able to tell you what you need to improve.
  3. Practice, deliberately. Deliberate practice is what eventually acquiring talent is all about. Once you know what you should be practicing, you have to work on it until it becomes second nature. This is probably the less fun part of the process, but it’s eventually what makes the difference between a great talent and an average person. It is recommended that you practice as much as you can until you are mentally exhausted, and then repeat the day after once you’re fresh again.
  4. Get feedback. After you finish practicing, get as much feedback as you can, and see where you made errors and figure out how you can improve next time. Set pride apart and listen to what others have to say, that’s how you’ll eventually grow. If you don’t have a teacher or if you have limited resources, you can also set goals for yourself in order to test your improvements. Successful people set goals that are not about the outcome, but about the process of getting to it. Set specific goals that will stretch you just beyond your comfort zone and that are very specific (more on this in the book).
  5. Rinse and repeat. Now that you’re good at something, it’s time that you choose another sub skill to practice. Repeat this process for a few years and you’ll eventually become very, very good at what you do.

    Conclusion

    The book goes more in depth about what deliberate practice is and how you can acquire great talent, but I hope this short introduction will give you some new ideas and inspiration.

    I’d like to get your opinion about how you would go and find what activity you should be practicing next, or how you would find a good mentor or teacher.