That's what bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell asked panelists at the 2011 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to consider.
The opening session focused on the "10,000 hour rule" from Gladwell's 2008 book Outliers. The rule states that success in any field can be achieved through the purposeful practice of a specific skill for 10,000 hours.
As moderator of the discussion, Gladwell asked for opinions on what value should be placed on pure natural talent versus work ethic and the capacity to accept instruction.
The talk turned to NBA player Tracy McGrady, who, as they say, was the whole package. An amazing athlete with a combination of size, speed, power, and grace that, early on, catapulted him into being a dominant force in the game.
According to Jeff Van Gundy, McGrady's Houston Rockets coach (2004-2007): "McGrady's talent and skill were otherworldly... the man should be a future Hall of Famer."
Regrettably, McGrady was unwilling to further cultivate his natural talents. Van Gundy estimated McGrady at "probably 1,000 hours of practice" - one-tenth of Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule.
Fellow panelist Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, added: "I do think [his natural abilities] got in the way of Tracy's development."
"Much of the game was so easy [for him]," said Morey. "When it's that easy to dominate at that young age because of your physical tools - his wingspan was freakish, his size was enormous, his IQ - my sense was, all that did was get in the way of Tracy reaching his highest heights."
Confused? That's okay, So was I when I read that. But pause and ponder it in regard to your own career and you'll see that it makes sense.
When I was studying Kenpo Karate, I always wanted to work out or spar with black belts. I wanted to compare my movements to theirs. I wanted to experience firsthand what they did differently while on the journey to my own black belt.
As a comedy writer in Hollywood, my partner was better at certain aspects of scriptwriting than I was. That was good. I didn't want to team with an inferior writer. What would be the point? By having a partner who was strong where I was weak (and vice versa), we were able to learn from each other and craft superior scripts in half the time.
The Great Recession has humbled even the greatest of peak performers on their own playing fields. If you're in your 40s or 50s, for example... there's a good chance the skills needed to do your present job are either being outsourced to a Mumbai call center or assigned in-house to someone half your age (and at half your pay).
You have to have a Plan B to fall back on.
That is why so many people are taking steps to reinvent themselves in their present careers. Doing this not only helps you enjoy personal fulfillment, it propels you into becoming an indispensable employee.
In other words, he had a PLAN B to keep him "in the game"... just in case.
Here are five quick tips to successfully reinvent yourself in the your present career.
1. Stay focused on what's going on in your own company and in your industry in general. Is the marketplace changing? Where will your company be in five, 10 years? And where will your industry be?
2. Nurture the passions you have that can be transferred to new skills that can boost your company's profits. Plain and simple - discover new revenue streams or cost reductions that can add to your company's bottom line and you can write your own ticket to earning gobs more money!
3. Regardless of your age (and how set you are in your ways), find yourself a mentor who has "been there, done that." You might not need 10,000 hours of practice time to reach your version of elite status. But you will need a watchful eye to guide you and help you strengthen your weaknesses.
4. Join a mastermind group. Make sure these folks are at or above your level. You want to UP your game and learn from them.
5. Discover what your "USP" (unique selling proposition) is at work. What makes you different than every other employee? What specialty, skill, or innate talent do you have that can help you leap over your competition and stand out from the crowd? Reveal it, develop it - and you can easily become the "Go To" person in your department or division.
Finally, never rest on your laurels or be satisfied with where you are. Change is inevitable. And because it is, reinventing yourself does NOT have to be a scary experience. On the contrary, it can be quite exhilarating as you take control of your future.
The rules have changed! You don't want to just survive in today's economy, you want to thrive. Reinventing yourself makes that possible.