It’s learning, practice, not natural talent, that brings success

According to Geoff Colvin, senior editor at Fortune: “Talent is Overrated.”

In his new book by the same name, he says researchers see little evidence of talent in high-achieving individuals before they had intensive training. The findings show up in every kind of endeavor and in business people, artists, sports figures and others. The researchers don’t say talent doesn’t exist or help, but that practice and diligent work are more important to success.

“Deliberate practice” designed to improve performance is the key. It includes continually stretching yourself just beyond your current capabilities. You have to identify the elements of your performance that need to be improved and work intensely on them and with repetition. That means using deep focus and concentration.

For deliberate practice to be effective, do what is difficult and painful. Seek out what you are not good at.

In the beginning, and sometimes long after, you should have a teacher to guide you, says Colvin. Anyone who thinks he’s outgrown the benefits of a teacher’s help should question that view. You need feedback.

It may seem that the most important things you can do to improve in your work are not fun.

But if the activities that lead to greatness were enjoyable, everyone would do them. There would be no way to distinguish the best from the rest. Bottom line: If you think you aren’t highly talented in an area, you can still become great by learning and practicing deliberately.

On-the-job learning called most effective

August has become the new back-to-school month, usurping the title from September for kids in grade school and high school. Most universities and colleges still open their fall semesters in September.

That probably means that many of us are wondering whether we should be signing up for a college course, or some other type of class.

Textbooks and classroom learning have their place. They give people an overview of their work and why it’s important. Some technical courses actually teach skills that can be used on the job, or at least on some job if not your own.

Without detracting from the importance of education, training consultant Ram Charan says action is the real key to learning. He recommends building learning into the work. People learn more, says Charan, from active on-the-job training than from classroom instruction.

The Center for Workforce Development estimates that U.S. companies spend up to $50 billion a year on formal training, but that 70 percent of all workplace learning is actually informal, costs less, and is more effective.

In the real world of work, you often don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it. That’s where informal training comes into its own. It’s just-in-time learning, and that’s valuable. The return on investment is immediate for the company and the individual. It boosts morale, because people like to grow.

Charan also says a workplace full of people seeking and giving help to each other becomes a wellspring of ideas for continuous improvement.

Not taking any courses this year? That doesn’t mean you won’t be learning. In our organization, learning and building skills are a continuing process.

Learning depends on a good night’s Zs

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have important news for anyone trying to learn a new skill involving movement..

Whether you’re pitching a softball, working on your tee shot, or perfecting your serve, the quality of sleep you get is almost as important as practice. The doctors found that the final two hours of sleep during an eight-hour sleep night are particularly important.

The Harvard people discovered that people learning keyboard skills in the evening learned them 20 percent faster than people learning those skills in the morning. This was only true, however, if the evening people had a good night’s sleep.

Facts about ‘distance learning’

More people are taking college courses online while retaining their full-time jobs. Research shows:

  • There is no significant difference between classroom instruction and distance learning.
  • Most online instruction has a high level of interaction with teams, and professors.
  • Most employers see online learning as equal to or better than classrooms.
  • Distance learners read more, write more, and do more research than students attending class in person.
  • The costs of distance learning are comparable to classroom instruction.

On-the-job learning most effective

August has become the new back-to-school month, usurping the title from September for kids in grade school and high school. Most universities and colleges still open their fall semesters in September.

That probably means that many of us are wondering whether we should be signing up for a college course, or some other type of class.

Textbooks and classroom learning have their place. They give people an overview of their work and why it’s important. Some technical courses actually teach skills that can be used on the job, or at least on some job if not your own.

Without detracting from the importance of education, training consultant Ram Charan says action is the real key to learning. He recommends building learning into the work. People learn more, says Charan, from active on-the-job training than from classroom instruction.

The Center for Workforce Development estimates that U.S. companies spend up to $50 billion a year on formal training, but that 70 percent of all workplace learning is actually informal, costs less, and is more effective.

In the real world of work, you often don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it. That’s where informal training comes into its own. It’s just-in-time learning, and that’s valuable. The return on investment is immediate for the company and the individual. It boosts morale, because people like to grow.

Charan also says a workplace full of people seeking and giving help to each other becomes a wellspring of ideas for continuous improvement.

Not taking any courses this year? That doesn’t mean you won’t be learning. In our organization, learning and building skills are a continuing process.