Fortune didn’t return any of our phone calls this afternoon so we’re just going to go ahead and run this possibly false but not evidenced to the contrary statement: Geoffrey Colvin is full of shit.
According to Colvin, who penned “What It Takes To Be Great” for the mag’s “Excellence Issue,” the secret to greatness lies in—get this—“painful and demanding practice and hard work.” Holy shit! Someone should have told us this a long time ago. Dad always said it was “great legs and the third martini.”
The rogue journalist goes on to say that “You are not a born CEO or investor or chess grandmaster. You will achieve greatness only through an enormous amount of hard work over many years.” Right, and next you’re going to tell us Hanukah Harry was something our parents made up to exculpate themselves from getting us the inferior Barbie Dream House back in ’89 (“This is Harry’s doing, Bess, it’s out of our hands entirely!”). Stick with us because the man-who-makes- outrageous-and-downright-ridiculous-claims goes on:
In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly and then stop developing completely. Yet a few do improve for years and even decades, and go on to greatness.
The irresistible question - the "fundamental challenge" for researchers in this field, says the most prominent of them, professor K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University - is, Why? How are certain people able to go on improving? The answers begin with consistent observations about great performers in many fields.
The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work. It's nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great from day one, but it doesn't happen. There's no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice.
We suspect Colvin has some unresolved anger over not being being fast enough to coin his saying, damn it! 'there's no such thing as a free lunch,' but honestly, it's irresponsible and hate-fuckingly obvious articles like this that are giving business journalism a bad name.
Update: This article was, like, totally already written back in May by the Freakonomics folks Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.
Update Update: And, what’s more, to the extent there’s any non-obvious, controversial claim here, it’s probably wrong! Steve Sailer shot so many holes through it, it might as well be Dick Cheney’s hunting partner.