Engage the Talents of Your Workforce


How the Greats Became Great

July 2, 2010 by Targeted Learning | add new comment

Targeted Intensive Practice Part I

Over the past several years, in order to understand the mystery behind extraordinary achievement, we carefully studied the lives of the “Immortals,” people who successfully cemented their names in the grand story of human history: Michelangelo, Mozart, Da Vinci, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Julius Caesar, Beethoven, Isaac Newton and many others.

We were able to tease out only three traits common to every one of these Immortals. First, they loved the work they were doing. Second, they each worked incredibly—almost superhumanly—hard for many years in order to achieve their greatness.

But the world is full of hard workers who love what they do yet never become Immortals. What really differentiated the Immortals from everyone else was the third characteristic: their capacity to learn from experience. This skill, it turns out, can be learned.

People often use the word “talent” to explain the mystery behind extraordinary achievement. Most dictionaries define talent as an “innate aptitude or skill.” In other words, our talents are biological gifts conferred upon us at birth and we either have them or we don’t. This notion of talent keeps most people from ever achieving their true potential. The belief that I was not born with a certain talent causes me to do things—or not do things—that guarantee my continued mediocrity. For example, if I believe I don’t have the inborn gift for music, then I conclude that dedicating time and effort to becoming a great piano player is just a waste of my time.

As yet, there is little evidence to support innate ability as the driving force behind extraordinary achievement. Anecdotal evidence exists, but not one peer-reviewed scientific study has proven the connection. In contrast, there are many rigorous studies to confirm that extraordinary achievement is almost exclusively the result of skills and mindsets that are learned, not innate. The process whereby these skills and mindsets are learned is a process we call “targeted intensive practice.” In two weeks we’ll show you how to do it!

If you have attended one of Targeted Learning’s career management workshops, you may be wondering how to reconcile the notion that talent is not the key to greatness with what we have taught in our career management workshops for the past 15 years: that career success requires people to find opportunities at work that are aligned with their strengths (i.e., talents and passions). Stay tuned for our next installment.

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