What makes our top achievers in business, sports or music great at what they do? Is it something they’re born with? Is it an overbearing parent pushing them to succeed? Is it hard work? Most of us think that talent is something we’re born with, that you either have it or you don’t. We think that how smart someone is determines their potential. Not so much. Sure, some people have inherited advantages in rare cases, but these advantages being smarter, stronger, taller etc, have little to no relation to how successful someone will be. How hard we work at something also has little to do with how successful you’ll be. Working hard is not equal to achievement. We all see people who work 50 hours a week and have little to show for it. Pushy parents can be helpful in the beginning to keep kids focused on practice, but in the long run kids need to want to practice and get better to succeed.
There are some things that are very relevant to high achievement. Growing up in an environment where parents are supportive of their children’s growth. Believe in one’s ability to achieve, “What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve.” Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent Is Overrated. Having a directed practice designed to develop skills, that focuses on what Dan Pink calls, “Goldilocks tasks” - ones that aren’t too hard or too easy but push you just beyond what you can do now. Most of us need a coach or a mentor to help us design our directed practice. With things like sports or arts it tends to be parent at least at the start. In business if you’re lucky, you’ll find a mentor.
So it’s not your inherited traits or hard work alone that determines if you’ll be high achievers, it’s a dedicated lifelong practice that’s focused with laser precision on improving the skills you need most to succeed. And equally important, you have to believe that you can succeed. Becoming a high performer is not rocket science; it does not take a 130 IQ. It does take dedication and focus. According to Colvin, it takes about 10 years to get from novice to exceptional performance in most areas of study or work. Even if you’re not willing to do what it takes to be a Tiger Woods, you can still improve your ability to achieve. So if you’re willing to do the work, the sky is the limit.