Posted by: kevinliebl | August 4, 2010

Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard!

Hard WorkAll three of my children play basketball in local leagues.  One of the groups that they play with has t-shirts promoting their league and on the back of the shirt it has the phrase “Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard“.  I love this shirt because it is a lesson that we can all learn from.

On an athletic level, it is clear.  There are plenty of “gifted” athletes that never excel because they rely on their natural ability to pull them through.  We see this in middle school, high school and we clearly see it in professional athletics.  It is always sad to see money and fame ruin a great athlete’s career.

This lesson can also be seen in academics.  Some students rely far too much on their natural ability and end up paying the price.  We all have stories of high school valedictorians that never made it through college.  On the other hand, we also have stories of kids who struggled through school and ended up very successful in life.  Sometimes those challenges we faced, made us far more prepared for the real world.

There is no simple secret to success.  There are no silver bullets.  There are no short cuts.  However, nothing is more important than preparation and hard work.  Yes, we can always point to the examples of people who were successful by flying by the seat of their pants.  We can also point to the guy who jumped off the 3-story building and walked away without a scratch.  There are always exceptions.  However, I prefer not to jump off buildings.

In business, we compete every day.  We compete with other companies.  We compete with other employees.  We compete with other candidates during interviews.  Does the most naturally talented individual always win?  No.   Does the most naturally talented individual win most of the time?  I would argue “No”.  In my experience the most prepared individual wins.

It is a common excuse in business to say, “We can’t compete with Goliath Corporation.  They are 5 times our size!”  Other companies will always have more people, more budget, better products, better market position and so on.  This should not, and cannot, be an excuse.  Why do startups with little or no budget beat billion dollar companies every day?  It is simple – because they can.  They are rifle focused.  They usually only have one product, while larger companies have an array of products to worry about.  They don’t have legacy issues to deal with.  They know that failure is not an option, so they work exceptionally hard.  If they don’t succeed, their company fails.  They simply don’t have other revenue streams to fall back on.  They are nimble and creative while larger companies are often bureaucratic and slow moving.

The lesson is simple, “Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard”.  Don’t make excuses.  Simply work hard and be prepared.  You will win more often than you think.


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  1. A couple of thoughts:

    One, hard work and being prepared are clearly not the same, and shouldn’t be confused for each other, as preparation is an ‘end’, and hard work only one of the ‘means’ to that end.

    Two, we likely experience quite different reactions to the talented, versus the hard-working, based on the thinking that talent is non-negotiable (in the sense of having it or not having it), while hard work is indeed quite negotiable.

    As a result, the super-talented tend to make us feel how good we Can’t be, while the hard-working are more likely to make us feel how good we Could be (and chose not to be?).

    Third, is the fact that we can control our effort much more than our talent, and we are best served, in athletics, academics, business and life, by managing what we can manage — effort — rather than that we cannot: talent.

    Last, we really need a T-shirt (a really big one), that says something like:
    “Hard Work beats Talent when Talent doesn’t Work Hard — but both get regularly smoked when Talent and Hard Work both gang up on you”

    Point being: Find where you’re talented, and WORK HARD to press that advantage.

    • BD Barnes, can I use this? I will be sure to give you the credit.

  2. My family were dirt poor when we immigrated to the USA and we stepped on shore at Ellis Island which we considered a rare privilege. As children we were expected to do the lowest of labor, help others who were just as poor, be honest and helpful to anyone we met.

    Respect for others was espoused by my parents and punishment for disrespect was dealt with fairly and swiftly. We knew where we stood and what constituted right from wrong. The situation of being poor strengthened my character and we truly appreciated the services rendered by such workers as cleaning employees, garbage collectors, retail clerks, sanitation employees, restaurant employees, etc. Honest labor we done with pride and self satisfaction.

  3. well said

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