October 25, 2008

Talent, Determination, and The Total CIO

To become a great CIO or a great anything, what is the driving factor—talent or determination?

Fortune Magazine, 27 October 2008, has a book excerpt from Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.

Often, as individuals we’re afraid that if we don’t have the inborn talent then we can’t really compete and certainly won’t succeed. But that isn’t true!

Here’s an interesting anecdote about Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Balmer. “One of them recalls, ‘we were voted two guys probably least likely to succeed.’” They played waste-pin basketball with waded-up memos at P&G before becoming CEOs of General Electric and Microsoft.

Research shows talent is not the decisive factor:

“In studies of accomplished individuals, researchers have found few signs of precocious achievement before the individuals started intensive training…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.”

So if innate talent is what makes for high achievement, what does?

The answer is…”deliberate practice” characterized by the following:

  • Stretch goals—“continually stretching an individual just beyond his ir her current abilities.”
  • Repetition—“top performers repeat their practice activities to a stultifying extent.”
  • Feedback—“in many important situations, a teacher, a coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.”
  • No pain, no gain—“we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over…if the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them.”

So what do you do if you want to be a great CIO or successful in any professional endeavor?

  • Set goals.
  • Plan how to reach them.
  • Observe yourself/self-regulate.
  • Self-evaluate.
  • Adapt to perform better.
  • Repeat.

This is where determination comes in and makes the difference between success and failure.

What you want—really, deeply want—is fundamental because deliberate practice is an investment. The costs come now, the benefits later. The more you want something, the easier it will be for you to sustain the needed effort.”

In any case, “the evidence…shows that the price of top level achievement is extraordinarily high…by understanding how a few become great, all can become better.”


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