Breaking Down | COLVIN vs. GLADWELL

Two books were recently published about how people achieve world-class success: Geoff Colvin’s TALENT IS OVERRATED and Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS.

Two books were recently published about how people achieve world-class success: Geoff Colvin’s TALENT IS OVERRATED and Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS.

Both books are remarkably similar. They each dispel the notion that talent and intelligence are predictors of success. Both rely heavily on Anders Ericsson’s research into “Deliberate Practice.” And both highlight the success pathways achieved by Mozart and Bill Gates.

Colvin’s approach is geared towards business-interest and focuses mainly on one determinant of success. While Gladwell’s approach is much more general-interest and thus, includes a variety of success determinants. Both are worthwhile reads.

To help give you a basic understanding of both books, we’re going to give each one the “WHAT? | SO WHAT? | WHAT NOW?” treatment.


“Talent is overrated. The gifts possessed by the best performers are not at all what we think they are. You are not a natural-born clarinet virtuoso or car salesman or bond trader or brain surgeon—because no one is.” (pgs. 6, 7)

Great performance isn’t a result of inborn abilities, intelligence or experience.

“The fact that seems to explain the most about great performance is something the researchers call deliberate practice.” (pg. 7)

“A number of researchers now argue that talent means nothing like what we think it means, if indeed it means anything at all. A few contend that the very existence of talent is not, as they carefully put it, supported by evidence. In studies of accomplished individuals, researchers have found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started intensive training. Similar findings have turned up in studies of musicians, tennis players, artists, swimmers, mathematicians, and others.”

“Such findings do not prove that talent doesn’t exist. But they do suggest an intriguing possibility: that if it does, it may be irrelevant.” (source)

To achieve great performance, you must practice, practice, and practice some more. But you must approach practicing with tremendous intensity and be absolutely deliberate with your practicing.

“Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works. More of it equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.” (pg. 7)


It’s not extraordinary talent that makes you successful. It’s the extraordinary opportunities that you take advantage of which make you successful.

“Success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you were born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing will all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world.” (pgs. 175, 176)

“We are so caught up in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth.” (pg. 268)

“People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact, they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” (pg. 19)

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” (pg. 42)

“Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” (pg. 41)

“The 10,000-hours rule says that if you look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that unless you practice for 10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about four hours a day.” (source)

“The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you are a young adult.” (pg. 42)

You will need extraordinary opportunities in order to reach that amount of practice time. Such extraordinary opportunities will include having encouraging and supportive parents, having the financial wherewithal to allow yourself the time to practice, having fortuitous timing, and having the advantageous experience of being involved in a special program/circumstance where you can focus on deliberate practice.