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Old 10-22-2006, 10:09 AM   #1
James Falkner
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Just wondering what folks in the CF community think of the debate around greatness and whether you're doomed to mediocrity unless you're born with special talents.. This article about the debate (from the world of business) made me think about it a little.
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Old 10-22-2006, 11:27 AM   #2
Jim Butts
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Old 10-22-2006, 11:52 AM   #3
David Aguasca
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that's perfect.
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Old 10-22-2006, 12:23 PM   #4
Darrell E. White
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Interesting that you have started this thread now, James, as this is a topic that my family and I have bandied about for years. My brother recently sent me the same URL as well as an article in the WSJ on the same topic.

In some respects I agree totally with the author, that it is effort and desire and hard work that ultimately determine what level of achievement each of us attains. However, the fundamental premise of HIS take on this is that EVERYONE can be great, and it is here that I diverge from his position. Like it or not there is a spectrum of gifts/talents/potentials that we each begin with. Kind of like the first stake you have when you begin a game of Monolopy, but everyone does not start with the same stake. Some people are simply more gifted intelectually, some in spatial relations, others artistically or musically, still others physically. Two people of unequal potential who put in the equal effort, practice, etc. will not IMO arrive at the same destination.

Greatness is difficult, if not impossible, to define. Like the Supreme Court Justice's definition of , (We) know it when (we) see it. One's potential is equally difficult to define, and it is here where the author and I may start to have some common ground. Since we don't ever really know when we have reached that final plateau in whatever endeavor, the continual effort to improve (practice, drill, study) marches on in those who seek greatness.

Some examples may be helpful. In the world of business it is probably more instructive to look at Apple computer rather than Microsoft because the founders of Apple diverged at some point. Steve Jobs is rightly observed to have reached a level of greatness in the computer business, twice building Apple to success on many levels. His original partner Steve Wozniak, arguably just as gifted as Jobs, has been left behind on the business "greatness scale" because he stepped off the effort trail. The opposite is true in business as well, I believe. Jack Welch is not the most ambitious or hardest-working man ever to lead a major company. GE is probably populated with scores of managers who are equally ambitious, hard-working, and diligent. One simply can't escape the realization that Welch started with more gifts and refused to squander them, working to maximize his talents and becoming "great" at what he did.

Athletics offer even easier examples. Why is Larry Bird a Hall of Famer, and Rick Robey is the answer to trivia questions? Both are 6'9", slow, and slaves to gravity. Bird simply had more gifts and worked as hard as Robey did, achieving a higher level of "greatness." Why is Oscar Robertson universally felt to be one of the five greatest NBA stars of all time, and Scott May, who left college as the next O become a journeyman pro out of the league after just a couple of years, didn't? (No offense to Mr. May who did acheive at a level that I, and most of us, can only dream).

No, true greatness is not within reach of each and every one of us if we will only work hard enough. That notion must be the cause of more disappoinment in the business, sports, whatever world. The point, the true point, the take home message that I try to live each and every day (and to teach my children, partners, associates, and staff) is that it is within each of us to REACH OUR POTENTIAL. It is THAT which requires effort, practice, study, etc. And since we don't know what that potential is (as a business person, doctor lawyer, plumber, member of the armed forces, LEO, firefighter, or as a parent, spouse, friend, athlete) we are compelled to push on each and every day in the effort to reach it. For whatever reason we choose to reach it.

We may each choose to measure ourselves on scales in all aspects of our lives. Some are pretty objective (Kelly's or Matt G's WOD scores vs. mine), and some are pretty tough to measure (the quality of cataract surgery). I think it's when we stop making the effort to achieve that mediocrity may begin to be an issue.

Whoops, way more than I planned to write. This is an ongoing conversation in my little house because of some of the decisions my wife and I have made over the years (prioritizing home life over career, $$, etc), and conversations I have had with friends and family about raising kids. In the end there's no answer, is there? But if we practice, study, try...

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Old 10-23-2006, 03:48 AM   #5
Joshua Hass
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Pretty sure I was born with it, just need to figure out how to harness it....
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Old 10-23-2006, 05:04 AM   #6
Daniel Fannin
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Josh, that is hilarious. I concur. I think we need some harnessing certifications, what do you think?
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Old 10-23-2006, 10:01 AM   #7
Franklin Shogie
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if you dedicate yourself sufficiently to a particular field of endeavor you will in the end achieve greatness IMHO.

there are a couple of points that the original article stressed that I think need to be re-emphasized.

1. DELIBERATE PRACTICE - The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice." It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day - that's deliberate practice.

2. Practice makes perfect - Many great athletes are legendary for the brutal discipline of their practice routines. In basketball, Michael Jordan practiced intensely beyond the already punishing team practices. (Had Jordan possessed some mammoth natural gift specifically for basketball, it seems unlikely he'd have been cut from his high school team.)

In football, all-time-great receiver Jerry Rice - passed up by 15 teams because they considered him too slow - practiced so hard that other players would get sick trying to keep up.

It takes a particular mindset to to do items 1 and 2. Most people aren't willing to conform their minds to do those 2 items.

One final note: some of you may remember Wilma Rudolph, the world class sprinter (Wilma_Rudolph). She was infected with polio and forced herself to walk and then run. Her dedication to achieving greatness in running allowed her to win 3 Olympic gold medals.
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Old 10-26-2006, 05:33 AM   #8
Craig Van De Walker
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I think the key is matching whatever "natural talent" or "potential" you have to the endeavor you chose. For example I doubt Larry Bird would have become a "GREAT" Olympic lifter, or jockey, even if he dedicated his life to either sport.

I think most people could be great at something if they tried hard enough. The key is having enough potential in whatever passion you chose to pursue.

That being said, there can be great satisfaction in bettering yourself and achieving something that is great on a personal level, despite not being great compared to what others have achieved.

The deal is IMO most humans only achieve a small fraction of what they are capable of. For the sake of argument, say most humans acheive maybe 20% of their potential (I am probably being generous here), but a persons innate genetic potential varies quite a bit (physical, mental, etc). So if you took a million people and offered a huge prize say $1 billion dollars to the one who could do the most one armed pullups when tested 10 years later, but could not communicate or be informed of what any of the other contestents were capable of you would have some impressive results. But even if all were just as dedicated, only a few would be "great". Those would likely be the ones who had a combination of physial and mental potential suited to the "challange". A different contest with the same hypothetical contestents say in archery would likely have different results.

In both contests there would be the schleps who didn't even try. They however would probably be the same in both contests!
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