Recently, I've been reading Geoff Colvin's terrrific book "Talent Is Overrated." It's an exploration of how individuals (and organizations) learn and innovate. And in particular, Colvin uncovers several myths about talent. Many consider talent, especially in music or sports, to be innate. You either have it or you don't. But studies indicate that that's just not the case. And more importantly, these lessons also apply in science and business. Did Anders Hejlsberg or Linus Torvalds just wake up one day and decide to be brilliant programmers? Or was it because they spent years programming from an early age, learning skills and developing their technical curiosity? Colvin makes a compelling case that it's the latter.
Instead, skills are developed over many years through what Colvin calls "deliberate practice." That's the focused manner in which people challenge themselves mentally (or physically) to become experts at new tasks. And not only can individuals tap into the ideas here, they can also be put in place by organizations to foster innovation and creativity.
The important point is that you have to set up opportunities to continually learn new things and develop new skills, rather than just continue to do the same thing over and over again. That's why some careers plateau and others continue to accelerate over a long period of time.
There's been a recent study by TechCrunch that reinforces the idea even further. Despite the popular myth that you're either born an entrepreneur or not, it seems that entrepreneurship can be learned, just like most other skills.
What do you think? Can learning match innate talent? Let me know...
You can read an excerpt of Colvin's book at Fortune magazine.