RSPA Recommended Read: Talent Is Overrated

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, MSP, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Sales & Marketing at the RSPA

I first read Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else back in 2014, and I found myself cracking the book open again because RSPA is hiring and will be training a Member Services Manager. So, based on the book title, are we looking for someone with no talent? Hardly. But we are looking for certain attitudes and behavior patterns that supersede natural ability.

Talent Is Overrated author Geoff Colvin explains his principles better than I can, so let’s dive into some of his book’s most insightful passages:

  1. The scarce resource is no longer money. It’s human ability.
  2. In a global, information-based, interconnected economy, businesses and individuals are increasingly going up against the world’s best.
  3. One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.
  4. The link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Intelligence is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.
  5. What Jeff Immelt is looking for: someone who is externally focused, is a clear thinker, has imagination, is an inclusive leader, and is a confident expert. Those are behaviors, not traits, and an IQ of 130 is not required in order to exhibit them.
  6. Southwest Airlines is famous for seeking a blend of attitudes and personality traits — sense of humor, sense of mission, energy, confidence.
  7. Many scientists and authors produce their greatest work only after 20 or more years of devoted effort, which means that in year 19 they are still getting better. People can keep getting better long after they should have reached their “rigidly determinate” natural limits.
  8. The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.
  9. Practicing without feedback is like bowling through a curtain that hangs down to knee level. You can work on technique all you like, but if you can’t see the effects, two things will happen: you won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.
  10. The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won’t do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.
  11. Practice is all about pushing ourselves just beyond what we can currently do.

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  1. There is in fact a path leading from the state of our own abilities to that of the greats. The path is extremely long and demanding, and only a few will follow it all the way to its end.
  2. Landing on your butt 20,000 times is where great performance comes from.
  3. Engineers, lawyers, accountants, and others go to school to learn the skills of their profession, but when it comes to the company, the industry, financial relationships, and how the business works, most people assume they’ll just pick up what they need to know, and most organizations agree.
  4. The economy is increasingly based not on financial capital but on human capital. The abilities of the people in an organization — much more than traditionally important factors like economies of scale or patent protections — determine an enterprise’s success or failure.
  5. Today’s best young employees consistently put continuous professional development at or near the top of their criteria for choosing an employer.
  6. Understand that each person in the organization is not just doing a job but is also being stretched and grown.
  7. At most organizations, nobody is in the role of teacher or coach. Employees aren’t told which skills will be most helpful to them and certainly aren’t told how best to develop them.
  8. Most organizations are terrible at providing honest feedback. The annual evaluation exercise is often short, artificial, and mealy-mouthed.
  9. Nothing stands in the way of frequent, candid feedback except habit and corporate culture.
  10. Knowledge is the foundation of great performance.
  11. Most organizations are not intellectually stimulating. Rather than offering opportunities to learn and rewarding curiosity, the typical organization leaves inquisitive employees to find their own ways to learn.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 8.5/10

This is petty of me, but I would have awarded the book a higher score (at least a half point more) if Colvin hadn’t taken this shot at my hometown: “Erie, Pennsylvania is sufficiently remote and unglamorous that the business leader can develop without national media scrutiny.” I mean I know I don’t live in New York or L.A., but “remote” and “unglamorous”? Yes, our airport only has six flights a day, but we do have running water!

Back to the substance of the book, I hope you gleaned two key lessons from those excerpts:

  1. Attract and retain people on your team who are passionate about learning and self-improvement.
  2. If you don’t intentionally develop your people, your business will lag behind others and/or you will lose staff to companies that make development a priority.

That second part can be especially difficult for SMB VARs and ISVs. It’s not like you have an HR department to task with running these programs or a giant pile of cash set aside for hiring consultants or purchasing educational programs.

But you do have options. Here’s a list that I’ve personally embraced or seen RSPA members execute to develop their people:

  • Fund book purchases for your staff. For about $20 a book, your team can be exposed to world-class research and expertise. After the employee (or your entire team) reads a book, sit down with them to discuss what they learned and how they can apply that. Here’s a list of books I personally recommend, and if you would like a book discussion outline, shoot me a note and I’m happy to send one your way.
  • If you truly don’t have any money to spend on development, subscribe to YouTube channels and podcasts. A few pods I recommend are Read To Lead with Jeff Brown, Coaching for Leaders with Dave Stachowiak, and the HBR IdeaCast by Harvard Business Review. If you and your team desire industry-specific content, recommended pods are The Restaurant Technology Guys with Jeremy Julian of RSPA member CBS NorthStar; Killing IT with Ryan Morris, Dave Sobel, and Karl Palachuk; and, of course, the RSPA’s Trusted Advisor Podcast.
  • Visit the RSPA Academy library. It has so much on-demand content available – including presentations from past RetailNOW conferences – that you could avoid human contact for several months (again) and keep yourself occupied. Access to RSPA Academy on-demand resources is free with your association membership.
  • On Aug. 26-27, you and your team can attend the RSPA Academy Education Online Symposium which will feature 20+ hours of industry-specific education for less than $2 per session.
  • The RSPA works with high-initiative, growth-oriented VARs and ISVs to improve their organization by helping them host staff professional development workshops via videoconference. The most popular topics are Customer Service, Communication, and Accountability. You can drop me a line for more details or check out these Twitter comments from satisfied RSPA member POS Supply Solutions.

Take action today to improve your people, their performance, and your outcomes. I know you can do it – and Colvin agrees with me. He writes, “Great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.”

Purchase your copy of Talent Is Overrated here.

Don’t forget to visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact