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What made the great so great?

Written by Cory Charles, Partner FFB Collaboration




What makes Tiger Woods the best at what he does? What makes Warren Buffet the best at

what he does? What made Michael Jordan the best at what he did? You may be surprised to learn that it is NOT natural talent.


Scientific studies across different fields of study are showing that talent has less to do with intelligence, motivation or personality trait. British researchers Michael Howe, Jane Davidson and John Sluboda concluded in an extensive study, “The evidence we have surveyed...does not support the notion that excelling is a consequence of innate gifts.”


Anyone can achieve their own greatness, in their own field through hard work and many years of dedication at your particular craft. Your lack of having a ‘natural gift’ is irrelevant since talent has little to do with greatness and more to do with a particular way you approach your work.


The question researchers were trying originally try to answer was, how is it that some people are able to continue to improve while others reach a plateau and cease to grow?


To answer this question, the scientist turned to those who had achieved greatness to study what they had done. Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson over a period of two decades explored outstanding performers across a wide spectrum of activities; from golf professionals to brain surgeons. Ericsson wanted to find out what made the great so great. Along with his colleagues, they began to notice similarities in the field of greatness. Here are some of their conclusions:


First, nobody can achieve greatness without hard work. Even people predisposed with a particular talent had to work, and work hard to achieve greatness. Talent alone couldn’t get them there.

But what about people who work hard at their discipline and don’t achieve the level of success that other achieve? What happened?


Lastly, those who achieve success through hard work go about it differently than those who haven’t achieved success. Ericsson makes a distinction between practice and deliberate practice.

For example, a golfer can hit a bucket a balls a day, that’s practice. But if he set out to hit a bucket of balls, with a 7 iron, with the goal of being within 10 feet of the pin, 90% of the time-that’s deliberate practice. Top performers practice deliberately often, measure their progress and make corrections along the way to continuously improve.

In sales, we can approach a task deliberate and continually find ways to improve the way we do it.


Whether working on our presentation, negotiation, closing, overcoming objection, or probing skills, we can deliberately practice in order to improve.

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