Clear Comm Consulting

Just What Makes Someone Outstanding?

Jun 30, 2010

One of my great motivations is to get rid of the usual excuses that hold back others. Here are some of my favorites. “Oh, he got that job because of ‘politics’.” It is often used by people who won’t put in the work and build the relationships to make things happen. Or how about, “Gee, I wish I had that great idea — I’d be a millionaire, too!” This one is often spoken by those who think just having the idea is all you need, forgetting about all the effort and attention to detail which followed that great idea. Finally, the often used crutch which says simply, “That person is just so talented, I could never be like her!”

What if talent really isn’t nearly the factor we think it is? I am currently reading a great book, “Talent is Overrated,” which looks at just that idea and it really blows apart many of the assumptions that hold us back every day. The book is written by Geoff Colvin, the Senior Editor at Large for FORTUNE and he not only looks at how little talent plays in success, but he looks at just what DOES make a difference for outstanding people.

First, how can this be? All of our lives we’ve assumed there are platforms we can never reach because we are held back by lack of a special talent that sets others apart. Colvin points out in virtually every case, that ‘talented’ person really had a couple of things to set them apart which had nothing to do with talent. First, a lot of exposure in their younger years to their specific area of focus and second, lots of deliberate practice, which is far different from what most of think of as practice.

Mozart, for example, happened to be the son of a composer and performer who was very interested in how music was taught to children. That meant that Mozart’s father started him in intense training at age 3 and put aside his career to focus on his son. By the time Mozart was in his early 20s he had years of training and exposure to composing. Was he really a ‘prodigy’ or did he have the kind of training few others had experienced? The same can be said for extreme examples we often think of such as Warren Buffett, Tiger Woods and Bill Gates — each had incredible exposure to their future professions at a young age.

Then there is the matter of practice. Let’s say you are in your 30s or 40s or beyond and you can’t turn back the clock, what can you do? Well, how do you practice? Most of us put in a half-hearted effort without real direction. Colvin found those we identify as talented have very purposeful, deliberate practice, working on specific goals and then moving on to the next goal, often with a teacher or coach to give them the outside perspective necessary to reach the next level of excellence.

We all want to be better at what we do, but what are we doing about it? If you really want to be a better presenter or better when you interact with the Media (or lower your golf score for that matter) just wishing won’t get you there. Set a plan, spend the time and get someone who can make it all come together more efficiently.

Take this 4th of July weekend to set up your plan of independence from the usual excuses that hold you back — and then get after it!

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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