What it takes to be great
Research now shows that the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret?
Painful and demanding practice and hard work
, senior editor-at-large
October 19 2006: 3:14 PM EDT
(Fortune Magazine) -- What makes Tiger Woods great? What made
) Chairman Warren Buffett the world's premier investor? We think we know: Each was a
natural who came into the world with a gift for doing exactly what he ended up doing. As Buffett
not long ago, he was "wired at birth to allocate capital." It's a one-in-a-million
thing. You've got it - or you don't.
Well, folks, it's not so simple. For one thing, you do not possess a natural gift for a certain job,
because targeted natural gifts don't exist. (Sorry, Warren.) You are not a born CEO or investor or
chess grandmaster. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work
over many years. And not just any hard work, but work of a particular type that's demanding and
Buffett, for instance, is famed for his discipline and the hours he spends studying financial
statements of potential investment targets. The good news is that your lack of a natural gift is
irrelevant - talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. You can make yourself into any
number of things, and you can even make yourself great.
Scientific experts are producing remarkably consistent findings across a wide array of fields.
Understand that talent doesn't mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It's an innate
ability to do some specific activity especially well. British-based researchers Michael J. Howe,
Jane W. Davidson and John A. Sluboda conclude in an extensive study, "The evidence we have
.. does not support the [notion that] excelling is a consequence of possessing innate
To see how the researchers could reach such a conclusion, consider the problem they were trying
to solve. In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly
and then stop developing completely. Yet a few do improve for years and even decades, and go
on to greatness.
The irresistible question - the "fundamental challenge" for researchers in this field, says the most
prominent of them, professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University - is, Why? How are
certain people able to go on improving? The answers begin with consistent observations about
great performers in many fields.
Scientists worldwide have conducted scores of studies since the 1993 publication of a landmark
paper by Ericsson and two colleagues, many focusing on sports, music and chess, in which
performance is relatively easy to measure and plot over time. But plenty of additional studies
have also examined other fields, including business.
No substitute for hard work