Anything That Interests Me! :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Anything that interests me! - Talent Is Overrated, by Geoffrey Colvin

I happened to be waiting for someone a few weeks ago, when I was still in Singapore. It was a long wait (she was late) and so I decided to spend some time in the bookstore nearby (I think it was Kinokuniya, but I could very well be mistaken). I browsed through the books there aimlessly, in the hope that something would catch my eye - but all the good books were wrapped in shrink wrap and I just couldn't open them to sample the goodness inside.

Then I saw it - an unwrapped book lying in a forlorn stack at the corner of the bookstore, completely ignored and unwanted. The title was Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. This could be mildy interesting, I thought, and I picked it up. It wasn't mildly interesting. I would say that this is one of the most informative, interesting and important books for 2010.

I have read many books - and it is my personal belief - that personal excellence and genius are not born, but made. Naturally, in the nature vs nurture debate, both nature and nurture are needed. The question arises as to which of the two is more important and plays a larger role. Obviously one who can't speak from some congenital defect is never going to be a Winston Churchill, and certainly one who has no hands from birth is never going to be Tiger Woods (although there are perhaps possible exceptions to this, such as Terry Fox, who could run despite losing one leg).

The books, related to the nature vs nurture debate, I read in the past normally dealt with total lifetime practice, which is a term that means someone who trains longer in a lifetime than someone else tends to be better at something. I myself refined the concept to mean total effective, practical lifetime practice, because there are some people who train longer than others but don't get better at anything because they don't train "effectively" and "practically". I am certain that there are others who have written on this more effectively than I have, and besides this research is commonly available to others.

Talent is Overrated must be understood in this context. It is not groundbreaking work. It refines a core idea that has been present for a long time, and summarises research already done. Yet it is incredibly important:

It is the first book that brings together related strands of research and the latest in the literature, and above all, Colvin actually adds his own ideas of how the research can be applied. This "how can it be applied" part is very important and central to this book.

I will only say the big things here (the small things can be found in the book, but remember, the devil is in the details): it is deliberate practice that makes all the difference. Deliberate practice is not easy, as it requires one to focus on parts of performance that were not satisfactory, and to consistently remain in the learning zone by rehearsing to improve precisely those unsatisfactory moments.

This book is really important as it goes on to deal with applications, the presence of passion, where motivation comes from, personality, memory and other aspects of performance. My wonderful memory, for example, doesn't come from any innate physical/genetic/ God-given prowess - damn! - but arises from the fact that I have been immersed in a theoretical structure long enough to hang facts upon that structure in a way that makes sense to me.

I would say this is a must read for anyone interested in improving his memory and thinking skills, and also a must read for anyone who wants to know the secrets of superb performance. There's a difference between good and superb performance. This book, if I may paraphrase the title of another book, tells you how to go from Good to Great.

Anything that interests me!