Year after year we see people on television, read about them in magazines or hear others talking about a person that has become incredibly successful. Within one minute of someone saying the successful persons name, someone else will say, “Man they are lucky.” or they might add, “I wish I had the talent to do that.” At some very deep level they are correct in their statement but mostly they are incorrect. Success has very little to do with talent or luck. To the casual observer of success they would say that I don’t know what I am talking about. To anyone who has ever really tasted success before, they would say that I am hitting the nail on the head.
I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Not much else to say about that except its nickname is Sag-nasty. That should give you a good idea of what the mindset of the community was. You could go to almost any basketball court in the summer and find a group of five guys that could beat every high school basketball team in Saginaw. If talent and luck are the key factors, then how is this possible? Was every kid on street courts unlucky or did they create their own circumstances by not putting in the work. In this case it could have been school work that kept them off the team but any way you look at it, it comes down to work ethic. Sometimes, I wish this wasn’t true because it would make for a very valuable excuse. Fortunately, there have been many books written on the subject that debunk the talent myth.
The first step to moving toward success is to realize that the idea that you have to have talent to be great at something is a myth. We naturally move towards something if we show a little bit of talent but we also will quickly pull away if someone is better or we experience a few setbacks. In the books Talent is Overrated and Outliers, both authors prove that this is exactly what we are talking about, a myth. The first example is called the Hamburg Crucible. We see the Beatles as being this overnight sensation that were so gifted and talented. Well, that’s not exactly the story. The Beatles were just like every other band; they were struggling. Until they were invited to come and play in Hamburg. They performed in Hamburg on five different occasions between 1960 and 1962. They performed live, for 270 nights, around eight hours a day, in less than a year and a half. By the time of their first success in 1964 they had performed over 1,200 live performances. This is more then most bands will do in their entire career. The long hours of playing forced them to learn new ways of playing and gave them time to experiment with different genres of music. All of this compiled into one of the greatest luck – talent stories in history. Of course, I am kidding. It was sheer work ethic that created this amazing band. The second example comes from a Hungarian couple that lived in the Ukraine. Laslzo and Klara had three daughters and for some reason decided to try and turn them into chess champions. Neither of the couple had any talent in playing chess but they decided they could learn and work. The three daughters were homeschooled and the schooling consisted largely of chess instruction. The family accumulated over ten thousand chess books. The three girls competed for their country and two of the girls were named grand masters. That is a pretty amazing feat for someone that showed no chess playing ability at all.
The other critical factor that these two books spoke of was deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is different then work ethic because it is focused. It means focusing on getting better at a specific skill instead of just practicing. They would measure how well they were progressing and when they felt good about the skill they would move to the next skill they needed to master. My mentor Orrin Woodward calls this P.D.C.A. or plan, do, check and adjust. I am a golfer and amateur golfers are famous for just going to hit some balls. Well, practicing the bad habits you already have can actually make you worse. It has to be something specific that you can measure and see if you are improving. Talent is Overrated did a study of 250 music students. All of them had around the same skill level. They watched them for some years to see what made the top notch students the best. There were only 2 things that made a difference. Work ethic and deliberate practice.
If we can stop saying we are not talented enough or lucky enough and just go outwork everyone, then we will one day be able to taste the sweet victory of success.