Talent Is Never Enough

Talent Is Never Enough

This article was originally published in the Kenzie Notes. My weekly newsletter.    

 “The higher you go the more your problems are behavioral. Interpersonal behavior is the difference between being great and near great.”

The following is from an interview in the Houston Chronicle with then Houston Rocket’s head coach Jeff Van Gundy published on October 27, 2004.

As often as he has said that talent in the NBA is a given, and therefore does not determine winners, Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy offered a discourse on the subject after Tuesday’s practice.

“I crack up,” Van Gundy said. “(Media) always say it. Players always say it. Players, when they’re losing, say, ‘I don’t understand why we’re losing. We got a lot of talent.’ Obviously, if you’re one of the top 400 in your profession in the whole world, you have a lot of talent. Obviously. Unfortunately, so does the competition.

“So what separates teams is not talent, it’s habits. Whatever habits you have will come out. What you’re constantly trying to do as a coach is create habits that are winning habits….What loses are turnovers, bad shots, poor containment of the ball, (not) helping on defense, not rebounding, lack of poise under pressure. There’s a lot. Not one of them is decided in this league … on talent. ‘We got out-talented tonight. We don’t have enough talent.’ What does that mean? We didn’t have enough production. This is a production-oriented business, as are most.”

“I don’t understand this obsession with talent.”

Coach Van Gundy’s advice makes perfect sense in the sports world, but what if you’re not an athlete? I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of talented people who believe their success is based on a “gift” their peers don’t possess. It’s been my experience that individuals who think their talents can do no wrong also can’t admit they are ever wrong. Which, paradoxically, makes them more wrong.

There are volumes of consistent and overwhelming, research that indicate that regardless of discipline or profession, talent is made, not born. What separates good talent from great talent is behavior or more specifically habits. When you move up the ranks in any discipline everyone you encounter will be talented. The lesson that Jeff Van Gundy is teaching is that talent alone isn’t enough.

You can’t win at anything until you truly understand what will make you lose. Here are nine habits I believe even the most talented individuals and companies need to have in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

  1. Work as hard on problem definition as you do on problem solution
  2. Have a healthy appetite for curiosity
  3. Embrace play
  4. Understand the impact of story on human relationships
  5. Build a surplus of knowledge
  6. Foster a growth mindset
  7. Be OK with experimenting and failure
  8. Understand the power of downtime
  9. Externalize the creative process

Skills aren’t the winning edge and tools don’t equal talent. Skills and tools contribute to your success, but your habits or how you apply those skills will determine how far you can go.

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