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The Mundanity of Excellence: Talent Does Not Determine Success and Why That Terrifies People

On the Ordinary Nature of High Performance

There are two groups of people in the world, those who see the following as an opportunity and those who find it absolutely terrifying:

  1. Innate talent is not responsible for high achievement
  2. Significant improvement results from qualitative changes in how you practice skills not from doing more of the same

Success means doing small things right repeatedly.

The phrase “Excellence is Mundane” means there is no extraordinary task that must be done to reach the top of a field. Instead, one must carry out strings of small actions correctly over and over again to achieve high performance. In any profession — athletics, stock investing, programming, writing, school — the little things determine success. Taken in isolation, each of these minor decisions is easy to get right, but we can’t just do them right just once, we have to get them right every single time.

  • Seeking out the help of a professor after class if you are stuck
  • Going over that final essay one more time
  • Showing up to the optional recitations

The Myth of Innate Talent

Talent — an innate physical or mental gift granting one great success in life — does not exist. In fact, talent is the product of high achievement, not the cause of it; when we see a great performer, we label them talented after viewing their success. The achievement leads to the talented descriptor. By attributing success to talent, we mix up the independent and dependent variables.

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Don’t Practice More, Practice Better

A crucial finding in the study of top achievers is that simply doing more of the same does not result in significant improvements in performance. High performers implement qualitative changes rather than quantitative changes.

A plan for deliberate practice (source).

Conclusions

When we try to find our way in the world, we tend to look at people who are successful for a secret — a single factor or innate ability. Then, we either try to emulate that exact trait, or give up because we don’t have natural capabilities. Both of these approaches are wrong because there is no single secret to success and natural talent does not exist. Instead, high performance means doing the small things repeatedly the right way, a realization that leads to the conclusion we are each responsible for our own achievement.

  1. Innate abilities are not the cause of top performance
  2. Significant advancements require doing things differently

Data Scientist at Cortex Intel, Data Science Communicator