Tag Archives: colvin

Working under the street

A friend asked today if I had written here today.

I told him no, that I’m down to two or three post a week here because of the challenge of writing every day at 300wordsaday.com. I also told him about a couple writing projects I’m working on for here.

I don’t know about you, however, but the phrase “working on” can mean “thinking about.” So I’m going to tell you what’s coming as a way of helping me think.

1. The Shack

As of this week, The Shack has been on the trade paperback bestsellers list for 52 weeks. Over fifty-two weeks it’s average position on this list is  1.94. At Amazon right now, it is number 7 among books.

If you want to find controversy within the Christian community (a vague phrase, I know), search for this book. You will find people who love it and people who hate it. It is the best book ever and it is the worst heresy ever. Of course, there are many people who wonder what the fuss is. They read it and think, “So?” Others read it and say “that’s really bad writing” or “I don’t understand.”  Still others aren’t interested because they don’t read fiction or they’ve heard it’s religious or someone told them not to read it.

So a friend and I decided to do a discussion group about the book at our church. We didn’t take sides at the outset and finished the study last week still not taking sides but wanting to provide context for any recommendation we made about the book (The fact that she’s the senior pastor’s wife and I’m the executive pastor responsible for spiritual formation made us particularly unwilling to jump to any particular position, I think.)

I want to spend some time writing about how we approached the book. I think that it will provide some insight into how to approach any book that evokes strong emotional responses.

But it will take some time to sort out. I’ll get to it soon.

2. Deliberate Practice

If you have been reading here this year, you know that one of my phrases for the year is “deliberate practice“. A couple months ago, I decided to find out what other people are saying about that phrase so I set up a google alert for “deliberate practice.” Every day I get an email listing the blog posts mentioning that phrase. There are 2-3 every day.

Some are reviews of two recent books talking about it: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (here’s my review). Some are summaries of the concepts. Some are application of the idea to various disciplines (culinary arts, public speaking, kickboxing, film, and free throws.) (To see a list of the posts, I’m working on tagging them at delicio.us/jnswanson/dp-march).

What I want to do is a better review of what people are saying and not saying. I have a feeling, for example, that most of us are just skimming, quoting Colvin or Gladwell or Ericsson. I have a sense that we aren’t taking the time to dig deeper and say, “here is what that looks like day after day for 10,000 hours.”

But that may be because I’m not taking the time.

Which is what this second writing project is about.

3. Passion

This actually isn’t a writing project at all. It’s a thinking project that is related to deliberate practice.

One of the posts I came across is called “Passion – the crucial ingredient that precedes ‘getting really good’ at something.” Randy writes

So — here is the question that we each need to ask: What do I care deeply enough about that I am willing to put in significant time, over the long haul, to get better at it? Even if the time I put in is not necessarily fun.

So: What are you passionate about?

That is a huge question. It comes before deliberate practice. It is related to focus. It is a question that I’m reviewing and rethinking and renewing.

But that takes time, too.


There you have it. I’ll be working on these projects in the background and bringing out pieces from time to time. I’ll be asking for your feedback. I think it will be fun.

Sound good?


I get up at 6

I set our alarm for 6. I usually get up. In fact, even when I don’t set our alarm for 6, I still wake up.

I started doing this several months ago. I wanted to read. I wanted to write. I wanted to learn to use time to influence lives.

And so I get up at 6.

Sometimes, I talk about that itself as if it is an amazing feat. But it isn’t.

Some mornings I get up and spend an hour looking at my computer screen. I browse through articles that have been gathered for me from 138 other writers. I read short comments made by more than 100 of my friends. I read what people have sent me directly by email. I follow connections made in all of those places to other articles, other people.

In my fogginess, as I drink my first cup of coffee for the day, it seems as if I am doing something useful. I may be. I sometimes find things that are helpful for understanding what is going on in the lives of others. I often am able to write to someone, to encourage someone.

Most of the time this random skimming is just random skimming.

Sometimes, the night before I have made a list: Here are the things I am not going to do in the morning. Here are the things I am going to do.

I’m not going to look at the articles from 138 people. I am going to read from the book of Isaiah. I’m not going to look at whatever comes to me. I am going to reflect on that idea I’ve been working on. I am going to send a note to my friend. I am going to write a short essay about that subject.

And  on the mornings when I get up at 6 and work through that kind of list, I am doing something.

I am learning step by step how to use time to influence lives. Starting with mine.


Getting up at 6 to be up for an hour, that is practice.

Getting up at 6 and working through a specific list of activities designed to sharpen my mind and heart and soul and pencil, that is deliberate practice.

[Deliberate practice]  is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, page 66.

Just getting up at six is like a kid who sits at the piano for a thirty minutes, counting every moment his seat is on the bench as practice. Working on the hard parts  is like the musician who each day works on the part of paying scales that was hard yesterday.

Does that make sense, my daily coaches and feedback providers? Does that help illustrate deliberate practice?

outliers and talent and hope and deliberate practice

Last fall, when I started learning about deliberate practice,  I wanted to read Outliers. I wanted to read Talent is Overrated. I went to Borders, armed with a coupon to buy one of them.

I looked first for Outliers, having heard more about Malcolm Gladwell than Geoff Colvin. If I was going to read one, that was it.  It was supposed to be on the shelf. It wasn’t. So I picked up Talent is Overrated. It has transformed my thinking about learning and goals and spiritual formation and organizational development.

So I reserved Outliers from the library.  It finally arrived on Saturday. I finished reading it on Monday, several weeks after reading the other book. I finished it thinking, “That was a great read, but it won’t change my life.”

Just think what would have happened if I had read them in the other order and not followed through to read both?


That story illustrates a central point of Gladwell’s book, that a significant function of success is timing rather than great talent. And that point is why I find Colvin’s book to be transforming.

Both books set out to consider success. Both take issue with our cultural assumption that the reason some people are so successful is that they are gifted or talented. Both go behind the curtain surrounding people we see as talented and provide a richer explanation.

Outliers: The (real) story of success

Gladwell is the better storyteller. He identified individuals, helps us see them, and then explains how they got to where they are. His ability to use anecdotes to see patterns seems an incredible talent…until we remember that he has been writing for years, telling stories.

  • He talks about opportunities which open because of unique timings in culture (The Beatles get invited to Hamburg, Bill Gates gets access to a time-share computer while still in high school).
  • People take the opportunity and work hard, 10,000 hours of working hard. “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.” 150
  • Some of the capacity for hard work comes from patterns in the cultures of origin. (This is a major theme of the book. However, to offer specific examples without the way Gladwell would sound almost racist. So I’ll send you to the book.)

The stories–why professional hockey players are born in the first three months of the year, of why top professionals come from certain cultural backgrounds–are incredibly compelling.

And in the end, Gladwell argues, the best thing we can do to help anyone is to provide opportunities.

But I end up thinking, “how?” To explain patterns and then to say, “imagine if there had been more people offered the same opportunity” feels flat.

Talent is Over-rated: How to be more successful (however you define it)

Colvin, on the other hand, chooses to work with just one part of success. He focuses on the hard work part and spends his book exploring ways that the right kind of hard work, what Colvin and others call “deliberate practice” can help anyone.

[Deliberate practice]  is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, page 66.

Colvin spends time, like Gladwell, showing the ways that success isn’t just about being talented. But then, after outlining deliberate practice, Colvin talks about how it works, how it can be applied as an individual, how it can be applied in organizations. He spends a chapter talking about where passion comes from.

The book reads more slowly, but that’s because you are jotting notes in the margin about what you can do, how you can help someone else.

Read them both, own just one

I’m glad for both of these books. I was afraid that they were redundant. Having read both, it’s clear that they overlap in concept but differ completely in application.

To be delighted in how a story is told, read Outliers. Gladwell will give you stories to tell to friends (as happened twice today)

To change how you live however, to identify the weakest parts of what you are best at and to improve them, Colvin will challenge and teach you.


Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Geoff Colvin, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else


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