I recommend reading Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else. I found Colvin’s storytelling interesting and the information well-presented.
It seems to be similar to Malcolm Glidwell’s Outliers, which I have yet to read. Like Gladwell (I think), Colvin concludes that deliberate practice (and lots of it) is the key. Which means, that what really separates world class performers and everybody else is their ability to find and persevere through deliberate practice.
Several of Colvin’s stories gelled with observations from my own experience, on page 44 (of my edition) he discusses studies done on expert race horse handicappers.
…IQ just didn’t seem to matter. “Low-IQ experts always used more complex models than high-IQ nonexperts,” the researchers found. Not only did handicapping expertise fail to correlate with IQ, it didn’t even correlate with performance on the arithmetic subtest of the IQ test.
The researchers’ conclusion: Their results suggest “that whatever it is that an IQ test measures, it is not the ability to engage in cognitively complex forms of multi-variate reasoning.”
That last phrase is not one that most of us use very often, but it’s actually a very good description of what most of us do every day in our working lives, and what the best performers do extremely well. You just don’t have to be especially “smart,” as traditionally defined, to do it.
I’ve seen this over and over again. “Smart” people (as determined by school grades and IQ tests) who struggle in the real world as they try to fit it into the supposedly “complex” (but surprisingly simple, once you get past the jargon) models they learned in school and they’re often outwitted by folks that have more contextual experience giving them a much better feel for the dynamics of the situation.
In other words, the “smart” person probably wouldn’t think to consider to factor in details of the horse’s latest bathroom break when handicapping the race, while the expert handicapper probably does that without even realizing it.
I do have one point of contention to offer Colvin. Later in the book, he explains that folks are taking longer to make significant contributions to their fields. For example, in 1900 a study of innovators found that people began making contributions to their field at around age 23. By 1999 that age increased to 31.
Colvin attributes this to having more material for these folks to have to master.
I think there’s another factor, that is a key part of Colvin’s book, but he fails to relate here — the amount of deliberate practice these folks have had.
My guess is that in 1900, folks found their fields at a younger age and were able to spend more time in deliberate practice in those fields, because they didn’t have as many other subject requirements in their education distracting their attention.
My guess is that I could have done without about half or more of the liberal arts education that I was required to take to earn my engineering degree and I wouldn’t have missed a beat.
Had I spent more time while I was studying to become an engineer, doing actual engineering work (as an apprentice or intern), I may have discovered several years sooner that engineering didn’t hold my interest. I could have spent those years getting an earlier start on my other interests instead.