HUMAN RESOURCES

A Skimmer's Guide to the Latest Business Books: Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

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The book: Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin; Portfolio; October 2008.

The big idea: World-class talent isn't something you are born with. It must be developed over many years of unflagging dedication, education, and "deliberate practice" of a key skill, which requires consistent repetition and immediate feedback. Colvin credits "deliberate practice" for the extraordinary achievements of phenoms like Jack Welch.

If you read nothing else: Chapter Seven, "Applying the Principles in Our Lives," presents more good ideas in 20 pages than many self-help books manage in 200. Among them: Treat business news like case studies by carefully considering what you would do in the place of a struggling leader; periodically go back and practice the fundamental skills of your craft (for example, analyze the ratios in a financial statement with pen and paper instead of software); and constantly deepen your knowledge of your industry.

You can skip: Colvin spends much of Chapter Nine, "Performing Great at Innovation," tearing down straw men, including the presumably widespread beliefs that creativity depends on flashes of insight and that great inventions are created from whole cloth rather than built on the work of earlier inventors.

Pass-along value: Anyone managing employees should consider this question: How do we balance the need to stretch people, which requires that they grapple with difficult and unfamiliar tasks, with the need for them to deliver peak performance at all times? The author's response is nuanced, but he is a fan of the stretch.

Chief executive offspring: Just as parents and teachers develop chess, sports, and music prodigies, Colvin suggests they foster business skills in young children.

Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Colvin is a world-class talent at multisourcing facts.

Last updated: Nov 1, 2008

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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