That’s the conclusion from the research on excellence, and it is certainly my experience.
Of course a child piano prodigy has a higher probability of making an excellent concert pianist, but her talent is wasted without any effort…
Consider that Tiger Woods was born with the natural talent to swing a golf club, yet a lifetime of expertly training is what made him exceptional.
Look at Tom Brady.
Sure, he’s a talented guy, but observe the way he prepares and you see why he is one of the best that has ever played the game.
Now, that’s not to suggest that excellence is just a matter of how “hard” you work at it.
In perhaps the most famous study on human excellence, Dr. Daniel Chambliss spent eighteen months living with Olympic-level swimmers determining what separates the fastest from the faster.
In his paper, The Mundanity of Excellence published in Sociological Theory in 1989, Dr. Chambliss makes a number of striking conclusions.
As he writes, “Excellence in competitive swimming is achieved through qualitative differentiation, not through quantitative increases in activity.”
Said differently, excellence has less to do with the hours that you throw at a task (sorry for those of you who buy Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule…) and more to do with the small improvements in quality that you make daily.
As the good doctor writes, “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities…which have been carefully drilled into habit.”
So you see, excellence is not about what you are born with or even what you do with it, but how you are getting better and better every single day.