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Book Review: Talent Is Overrated | A Great Book About Becoming Great

Cult? AJATT. AJATT? Writing. Writing? Books. Books? Book review!

Today’s book review is about, pertains to and is brought to you buy Geoff Colvin’s ultra magnum opus, and underrated book about how Talent is Overrated. I don’t know if this book is actually underrated in the literal sense of the word, what I mean is that it’s not nearly as widely known and celebrated as it deserves to be.

This book, like Bill Burr and Ben Stiller, deserves to be a household name. Remember how big 7 Habits was when we were kids? And how everyone owned and quoted it, but neither read nor applied it? This book should be that, except read and applied.

So today, children, watch and read, as I, Khatzumoto, sing unto thee the praises of this…this tome among tomes.

Let mortal book reviewing begin!



Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from the Rest of Us

Geoff Colvin
Senior Editor-at-Large,
Fortune magazine

Good thing he’s not an editor-at-small, eh, lads? Eh?



Where do I come up with these?



  • Great writing style. Very readable. Clear, concise, direct.
  • Colvin lays off the story sauce and sticks to the facts.
  • No attempts to weave a gripping/emotionally immersive narrative or any other such pretensions to novel-writing. Just the facts. Wham, bam, thank you facts.
  • Colvin is very measured in his tone; he writes with the careful, removed, inconclusive objectivity of an academic paper.
  • Minus the passive voice.
  • No pushiness, no hyperbole.
  • First book written by a WASP male in the last 300~500 years to discuss African-American athletes as if they were human beings.
  • There’s a Japanese translation out (finally!): 究極の鍛錬.
  • The UK English edition (which is the one I have) is all nice and cheap and softcover. Just so we’re clear: it doesn’t use 「UK English」, it’s just…for the UK market and in English. I’m just sayin’. I’m just…putting that out there so you don’t get confused.
  • No stupid, irrelevant war stories from his past. A lot of writers conflate telling tall tales of their past with giving their books a human touch.
  • No political agenda either way. Which is impressive, because this topic is nine months pregnant with opportunity to complain about the state of 「our values」, whatever you presume those values to be.
  • Audiobook also available. Yeeeah.
  • And not just a regular CD audiobook (as if anyone effing plays CDs any more), but an MP3 audiobook. Someone deserves hugs and kisses from beautiful women.
  • I mean, think about it: why the Fargo, North Dakota would I be buying books online but still listening to audio CDs?
  • No, really…think about it.
  • Colvin is obsessed with ASM. For him, everything has to come back to pain and suffering. This is a major blindspot in his otherwise stellar work and brilliant mindset.
  • Too many pros
  • Not enough people know about this stuff
  • There’s no movie of this
  • Japanese translation took way too long to come out
  • No bullet points/bold type and other helpful formatting that you typically find in any Japanese business book of recent years.
  • Colvin (and I can’t really blame him) has never heard of SRS. Which is too bad, because it’s perfect for a lot the practice activities he proposes.
  • AFAIK, no Kindle edition yet (at this writing). There is a program, and it needs to be gotten with.
  • No Japanese audiobook version. This is common enough, so, it’s not a problem with this book specifically. But I’ma rant about it anyway!



Like many (all?) great things, this book started small. It was originally an article in Fortune magazine that seems to have more or less organically expanded into an entire book. It still retains the wonderful readability of an article, but combines it with the depth and breadth of a book. It’s just good effin’ writing, people.

Gems, Gems, Everywhere

This book is full of gems. As I hinted at earlier, I read this book both before the Janslation (Japanese translation) came out and before I had 「developed」/hacked together the Unified Reading Process, so my copy was underlined to kingdom come. Kingdom actually came, and they were like: 「wow…that’s a pretty heavily underlined book. Is…is this a bad time?」, and I was like 「No, Ki­ngdom, you can come, just…leave the book」, and they were like…

OK, I digress. Where were we? Oh yeah – this book is full of gems, some of which I found quite moving, actually. Rather than listen to me ramble on and on here, we’d better just let Geoff speak for himself [bold type added by me]:

「…great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and everyone.」

「our view that intelligence necessarily produces better performance is so deep that it may occasionally even blind us to reality…in many fields, the relation between intelligence and performance is weak or nonexistent; people with modest IQs sometimes perform outstandingly while people with high IQs sometimes don’t get past mediocrity.」

Khatzlation: don’t complain about 「not being smart enough」. In truth, we don’t even know what 「smart」 is.

「Endurance runners, for instance, have larger than average hearts, an attribute that most of us see as one of the natural advantages with which they were blessed. But no, research has shown that their hearts grow after years of intensive training; when they stop training, their hearts revert toward normal size」

Khatzlation: You don’t quit practicing because you suck, you suck because you quit practicing. You don’t play because you’re good. You’re good because you play. You don’t run because you’re good at running, you’re good at running because you run.

「Memory seems clearly to be acquired」.

Khatzlation: Didja hear that, SRS fans?

「Rice was the greatest because he worked harder in practice and in the off-season than anyone else…In team workouts, he was famous for his hustle; while many receivers will trot back to the quarterback after catching a pass, Rice would sprint to the end zone after each reception. He would typically continue practicing long after the rest of the team had gone home. Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own.」

Khatzlation: Yeah, but he was a big, black man. They’re born that way, you know. Big,strong, runners. Kind of like deer.

「The roadblocks we face seem to be mostly imaginary」.

Khatzlation: Hear that, intermediate slumpers? Chill. You’re getting better, you just can’t see it.

On Autodidactism

「[Benjamin] Franklin…did not have a teacher to guide him…Ben in effect created his own teacher by finding examples of prose that were beyond his own abilities

*Cough* SRS. *Cough* Sentences. *Cough* cloze deletions. *Splutter*.

「While supported by others, [Jerry Rice] did much of the work on his own…most of Rice’s work was in the off-season…he did most of his football-related work by himself」


It’s unforuntate that Colvin hasn’t heard of SRS, because if he had, he’d see it for what it is and recommend it profusely. SRS is one of the most powerful training tools ever invented, perfect for the type of deliberate practice he describes in places like page 114:

「Conditioning…can take various forms. It can mean getting out those old textbooks and handbooks and reviewing the fundamental skills that underlie your work, becoming faster, more facile, and more confident with them」.

That there is exactly the kind of thing that SRS can handle for you, all the time, and with potentially half the review load, to boot.

「After all, what good is a ton of knowledge if you can’t remember it and bring it to bear at the critical moment?」

Best reason to SRS personal development books I have ever heard.

On Jerry Rice

Again, Talent is Overrated appears to be the first book written by a WASP male in the last 300~500 years to discuss African-American athletes as if they were human beings. I’m being facetious, but only slightly so.

Colvin devotes 4 pages – that’s about 2% of the book, kids – to discussing Jerry Rice’s work ethic and the details of his self-made training program. Not once, not once, does Colvin even attempt to give Rice the Big Black Magical Negro Man-Beast treatment. Maxwell Maltz himself, in all his greatness, couldn’t entirely see past magical blackness.

This, folks, is history. If I were a chick, I’d be having Geoff Colvin’s illegitimate children right now. In fact, if you’re a chick and looking for something to do today, then stop reading this, board a motor vehicle, report to Geoff Colvin’s residence immediately, and start having children out of wedlock with him. Yeah…it’s that good.

On Bullet Points and Bold Type

Perhaps Japanese people have bullet points in their business books for the same reason that there are very silly, slapstick moments in even the most serious of anime: Japanese people aren’t as concerned with being serious; they’re not afraid that helping readers out will be misconstrued as condescension.

Or not…I could just be orientalizing.

In fact, I know I’m orientalizing; I just made all that up because it sounded cool; I don’t actually think there’s a common cause behind these two phenomena (textual relief through formatting und comic relief in anime), although it is kind of cool to pretend that there is…makes you feel all deep and quasi-scientific and insightful and stuff. Hehe.

Softcover Love

I have the softcover edition. I’m just sayin’, dawg: hardcover books smack of arrogance to me. 「Look at me, my words are so important that they have to be heavy , too!」. I’m trying to carry books around here, chief – not lift weights.

  4 comments for “Book Review: Talent Is Overrated | A Great Book About Becoming Great

  1. Clint
    August 25, 2010 at 06:47

    I found a quote that made me think of you, in that I knew it would totally annoy you:

    “Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain” -Aristotle

    See? Even long dead people can be really wrong. 😀

    Anyway, that’s not related at all to the above post, so…that seems like a cool book! If only I was literate in Japanese and wasn’t pretending to be illiterate in English.

  2. August 25, 2010 at 17:52

    Hey, just a quick note, there is indeed a Kindle edition: I know because I read it when it first came out, and there’s no way I paid the king’s ransom it takes to get new English non-fiction in Shanghai, so it must have been on a Kindle. 🙂

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