Talent, Luck or Work Ethic

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 lucktalent 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.

Bill Lewis

22 thoughts on “Talent, Luck or Work Ethic”

  1. AWESOME article!! I think the older we get we tend to become tainted by the world & forget we can accomplish our dreams & reach our goals if we put forth the effort & don’t give up.
    Children are a perfect example of what can be accomplished from sheer determination & will power to not give up or give in. I have watched numerous 3 & 4 year old children teach themselves how to be completely computer literate all from nothing but determination. I have also watched numerous 3 & 4 year olds learn to read “fluently”, speak foreign languages & learn sign language in a matter of months. Simply because they do not have the thought process to tell themselves they can’t do it. They just do it!
    This is a great reminder to us “grown-ups” we can do it!!! Whatever it may be 🙂

  2. Bill,

    I can never be reminded of this enough! Shared a couple of struggles that I was having with my mentor the other night and he asked a few questions to get a more accurate picture of what I was doing wrong. We ran through a couple more details and examples before he gave me some things to focus on.
    Well, the results have come back positive. With the right focus & the right amount of intentional practice we are moving on in an area we were stuck on.
    Joshua 1:9
    Dan Pinkelman

    1. Dan you are hitting on an even faster way to improve….quick pdca…. if you are talking to a mentor 3 times a week versus another guy who is doing it 1 a month….the 3 times a week will eventually or very quickly pass the other person

  3. Great post Bill!

    I can vouch for this from my bowling experience. I started as a little kid averaging 20-30 a game. While I listened to people with more experience, and practiced my average became one of the better ones in the league. It was those people who said they were just there to have fun, or thought they’re way was best if they just practiced long enough, that didn’t improve much.

    Last year I was in a bowling league and won the award for top average. Everyone thought I was lucky to have the talent – but I had read Talent is Overrated, and I knew that it was because I had put in the hours – not 10000 to be bowling professionally, but enough that I ended up getting the most improved average the year before.

    Now imagine where I’ll be as apply that to something important like my LIFE? 🙂

  4. Great post, I understand exactly what you mean. I guess talent is overrated while dedication is not rated at all to the unknowing.

    1. just like we did in drum corps. we just out practiced everyone else. You can do the same thing in the business, its just practicing things to say…..in different situations.

  5. Being involved in the music industry in the past myself, all you ever hear are those who aren’t willing to do the work to make it talking smack about the ones who are. They blame it on talent, money, the right friends, and crooked backroom deals. No one ever thinks to blame it on hard work 🙂
    Thank you for being a voice of reason in a blame-casting world.

  6. Great post Bill. Over the years this has been one of the most important principles I have learned from you and the other LIFE Founders. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  7. Great post Bill! This is a great reminder to all of us that we can achieve anything we set our mind to, if only we have the work ethic and practice deliberately!

  8. Fired up! Thank you for the countless inspiration trough CDs, talks, and now (as I recently discovered) Blogs

    Be blessed

  9. Thank you for sharing this post Bill. So many people think it is luck and it truly is those who have been through the success process. You are a great example of this with your story.

  10. Hi Bill

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The more someone works with deliberate pratice the better they get. It has taken me a while to understand this concept. I never looked at success from this angle to tell you the truth and yet when I take a look at some of my successes, that is exactly what happened to me when I was in a zone and pushing forward. I didn’t take a look at my formula hard work over time whith deliberate practice how can you not be successful in whatever you do or try. Thanks Bill

  11. Bill,

    That is a great article. I look forward to applying this in my own life with life and other aspect of my life that I want to improve on. Very inspirational.


  12. Great article and funny how we can hear it over and over but until we change our lense it doesn’t fully set it. This is felt heavily by myself in fight sports. Once realizing it isn’t done by talent but rather the ability to see my resources in a constructive way, finding my true potential through hard work then I’m all of a sudden “talented” to the new viewer or “he was always good at that, comes so natural to him”; can’t stand to hear that stuff. Athletisicm may be a natural state in some ways but champions are built through hard work and sweat, blood and tears. Even the ones that seem flawless, it’s because they strive to be that way. Thanks for being a great leader which obviously comes from hard work, which is admirable. Keep on keepin on.

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