Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated is a great book.
It’s packed with great stories about, as per the sub-title of the book: “What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.”
(Here’s a short hint to the answer: “No matter who they were, or what explanation of their performance was being advanced, it always took them many years to become excellent, and if a person achieves elite status only after many years of toil, assigning the principal role in that success to innate gifts becomes problematic, to say the least.”)
(Note: That doesn’t mean Talent Is IRRELEVANT, just OVERRATED when compared to extraordinarily hard work. Again: See Effort Counts Twice for Angela Duckworth’s math on the subject!)
Today I want to share one of my favorite stories from that book.
Here it is.
Colvin tells us: “A study of figure skaters found that sub-elite skaters spent lots of time working on the jumps they could already do, while skaters at the highest levels spent more time on the jumps they couldn’t do, the kind that ultimately win Olympic medals and that involve lots of falling down before they’re mastered.”
(Aha! Stretching out of our comfort zones into our stretch zones (but not into our panic zones!) for the win!)
Colvin then tells the story of Shizuka Arakawa, who won the gold medal in figure skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
As you may know, she rocked some crazy move called “a layback Ina Bauer” — which basically required her to bend backward “almost double with the feet pointing in opposite directions — leading into a three-jump combination.”
You can watch her gold-medal winning performance here.
(Note1: The move we’re talking about occurs at the 1:45 mark.)
(Note2: If you aren’t moved to tears of joy as you watch such a beautiful expression of human excellence then…. well… I don’t know what to say other than rewatch it?! 🤓!)
Now…. When most of us watch something like that it simply looks IMPOSSIBLE to do. (And, for most of us, it pretty much is. 😲)
But… As we watch that performance in AWE, we would be wise to remember that Shizuka, who won the gold at twenty-four, had been training for NINETEEN years.
Consistently pushing her edges.
Falling down again and again and again…
In fact, Colvin calculated the number of times she probably fell and says: “Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from.”
And… That’s Today’s +1.
Ineffably elegant grace?
It’s the by-product of being willing to inelegantly fall on your butt (on cold ice, no less!) 20,000 (!!) times.
Olympic cameras back on you.
Let’s cruise back into our respective metaphorical ice-skating rinks to train like world-class performers as we wear our falls like medals and remember this parting wisdom from Colvin: “The evidence offers no easy assurances. It shows that the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high. Perhaps it’s inevitable that not many people will choose to pay it. But the evidence shows also that by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better. Above all, what the evidence shouts most loudly is striking, liberating news: that great performance is not reserved for the pre-ordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.”