Why Talent is Overrated - And What Will Really Lead To Success

When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a mere 7 years of age, he began performing music with his sister in the capitals of Europe.

He would dress up like a court minister, his sister like a princess, and they would play music to bedazzled audiences that happily paid to see the youngsters display their marvelous talents. [1]

They drew such large crowds that it was Wolfgang and his sister who supported the family – not their father Leopold who was a court musician and instructor.

Leopold noticed Wolfgang’s love of music at an unbelievably young age, which led him to begin teaching him how to play at the age of 4. During this time, he noticed just how well young Wolfgang could concentrate.

He was so absorbed, so focused and so dedicated to learning music. 

As he grew older, Wolfgang continued to display his talents, composing and playing music at a much higher level than any other musician his age could even dream of.

Then he closed the last chapter of his life composing some of the most famous and inspiring music ever made by one single person. He created many famous pieces that are still played over 200 years later before his untimely death at 35.

To many, he is proof that there is a divine spark of talent that the privileged few like Mozart have had since birth. And this "spark" is the one defining factor of great performance. But even in the case of Mozart, "the genius of geniuses", this is not true!


When working towards a dream, we want to believe that things will be easy.

We want to believe that we will uncover some hidden talent that we have yet to discover. This talent will reveal a brilliance in us and catapult us to new heights in whatever creative field we have chosen.

After all, divine talent must have been what led Mozart to playing in front of audiences at the age of 7. How else can that level of success at such an early age occur if not by talent?

Well, let us examine Mozart’s story a little more closely.

Like I mentioned, Wolfgang’s father was Leopold Mozart. He was a decent composer, but his true passion was teaching. He had been teaching Wolfgang’s older sister for years before he started with Wolfgang at the age of 4.

Wolfgang and his sister began performing when he was 7, yes, but that was after 3 years of focused practice. Plus, the performances were more of a novelty for audiences to see the young, precious children playing. It was not really about the music.

In fact, Wolfgang's first piece of music that is highly regarded didn't come until he was 14 - after 10 full years of practice. [2]


The next name that people think about when it comes to natural talent is Tiger Woods – he was playing at an extremely high level of golf at the age of 12 after all! [3]

But with Tiger, we see a very similar story to Wolfgang.

Tiger Woods’ father was Earl Woods. Like Leopold Mozart, Earl was only average as a golfer, but he loved to teach. He and his wife had decided that Tiger would be their only son and they would nurture his development as much as possible.

He gave Tiger his first putter at the age of 7 months and began hitting balls with him at the age of 2. He then had Tiger working with professional instructors as early as the age of 4. 

Tiger even admits that he did not have a natural talent for golf. Only that he had a natural desire to be like the man he admired most – his father. Which gave him the extra willpower to practice and improve his skills. [4]


So what is it that truly separates great performers?

The usual answer to this question is “hard work”. But there are plenty of people in this world who work extremely hard. Yet, they do not achieve the level of success of a Mozart or a Tiger Woods.

The next answer is usually “experience”. After all, years of experience are usually a key factor that we look for in job applicants. But once again, just because you have been doing a job for 40 years, does not mean you will be a true master of the field.

So how can we achieve an extraordinary level of success if it is not through talent, hard work or experience?

To find out the answer to this question, psychologist John Hayes set out to determine what truly distinguished the world’s top performers from everyone else.

To do this, he turned to the practice of composing, because it had so many myths about "talent" and "genius".  What he found was that no one – including the great Mozart – produced any piece of value until about 10 years after they first took to music. [2]

10 years of practice!

But the time it took was not the only distinguishing factor. Those who were able to create great works practiced much differently than their counterparts who were merely average. They were much more deliberate in their practice.


The great performers focused on improving the hardest tasks first and got consistent feedback on how to fix their mistakes. They spent their practice time consistently improving – not just going through the motions.

Here is an example from one of the fathers of performance psychology, Aubrey Daniels:

“Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50.

The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt.

The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice.

To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?” [5]

Since learning this fact, I have been on a mission to work on my skills as a writer, researcher and entrepreneur in the same way.


Aside from staying consistent by writing 2 articles per week, continually improving classes and getting constant feedback on my work from subscribers, I have an even more deliberate practice regimen that I adhere to.

1. Every day, I read an article or book by another author that I admire. Next to each paragraph, I write down the key ideas that were expressed on a separate sheet of paper. I then leave the sheet of paper alone until the next day.

2. Then I look at the piece of paper from the previous day. I look at each idea and try to write a paragraph about it with my own words and tone.

3. Then I compare my paragraph to that of the better author and see what he or she did better than me.

4. Then I take notes on how to improve for next time.

5. Finally, I repeat the process by beginning this day’s reading of paragraphs and writing down ideas.

This is not an easy process. It is time-consuming and frustrating to see how far I am from the best writers out there. However, it is effective.

Take a look at one of my first articles on this site and you will see a big gap in my writing ability then and my writing ability now. In fact, I am almost embarrassed to have those articles still on this site.


The key elements of deliberate practice are to:


Rather than working on what you are already good at, deliberate practice requires that you work on those things that you are not good at. So identify what you need to work on to reach your goals.


Feedback is one of the most important aspects of deliberate practice. You need to be constantly learning what you are doing well and where you can improve. You don't need to have an instructor, per se, I simply use other authors' work as my feedback. The basketball player in the example also simply used the hoop as his feedback.


Begin practicing the things that you have recognized you need to improve on. If the basketball player continuously missed short, he would work on adjusting his shot to have slightly more power. Based on your feedback, improve your skills.

4.    REPEAT

Repetition is absolutely crucial for the development of your skills. Going through this deliberate practice process one time will not do anything. Remember, even Mozart had to repeat this process for 10 years in order to become great! [4]


There is no divine spark that leads to success. Nor is success as simple as “hard work” or “years of experience”. It takes a lot of time and deliberate practice in order to cultivate the skills of the true masters in our world.

It will not be easy to spend 10+ years of your life making a deliberate effort toward a very specific goal. It will be long, it will be hard and it will simply be boring. But no person who gave their absolute best toward something ever regretted it.


  1. Greene, R. (2012). Mastery. New York: Viking.
  2. Hayes, J. (1990). Cognitive Processes in Creativity. Handbook of Creativity, 135-145.
  3. Callahan, T. (2010). His father's son: Earl and Tiger Woods. New York: Gotham Books.
  4. Colvin, G. (2008). Talent is overrated: What really separates world-class performers from everybody else. New York: Portfolio.
  5. Clear, J. (2013). Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice from Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant.