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Discipline or Talent? Which is More Important?

Discipline or Talent? Which is More Important?

Talent is sexy; discipline can be a bit boring. Which of these characteristics would you rather have in an employee? Which makes a better employee or manager?

In nearly 30 years of martial arts I’ve seen hundreds of talented people who simply lacked the discipline to do anything useful with it. For my money, I’ll take a disciplined person over someone with talent any day; except...

...many of the most talented people got there through discipline.

I don’t believe in natural talent. Sure, there are people who have genetic traits that may make them more or less suitable to a particular talent or skill, but talent itself is not innate. Talent must be developed and cultivated; that’s done through discipline.

An iconic example of discipline over talent is the story of Tom Brady. Brady dropped to the 6th round of the NFL draft, not the round champion quarterbacks are known to come from. The notes on Brady’s scouting report described him as skinny, underdeveloped, having a weak arm and too slow.

Ever hear of Giovanni Carmassi? Unless you’re a dedicated NFL fan; probably not.

Carmassi was the stud quarterback of the 2000 draft class. An incredible physical specimen, Carmassi had all the natural talent anyone could ever hope for. Scouts considered him the prototypical NFL prospect. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers; Brady’s home town team and the team he had hoped would draft him.

Carmassi never played a down in a regular season NFL game. Brady has three Super Bowl rings, came within 60 seconds of two more...and he’s not done yet!

What was the difference? Discipline.

Tom Brady is considered one of the most focused and disciplined athletes ever to play the game. He’s been that way since he was a kid playing high school ball. He had parents, coaches and mentors who cultivated and encouraged his work ethic and sense of discipline from his earliest years.

Carmassi had the talent, but never seemed to put it all together to make it in the NFL. Of course, even being drafted by an NFL team means that Carmassi was arguably much more disciplined than the average person, but his natural abilities could not trump Brady’s extraordinary discipline.

Authentic talent is a product of discipline, focus and hard work; what we call “Kung Fu” in martial arts. Unfortunately, we often mistake other traits for natural talent.

Some of the traits we mistake for talent are:

  • Charisma
  • Likability
  • Confidence

These are all valuable and useful traits, but they are not necessarily an indication of authentic talent. A genuinely talented person, one who developed his or her talent through hard work, is often quiet, unassuming and humble.

The trick is to probe beneath the surface. Understand a person’s talents and skills and be sure to understand how that talent was developed.

Without discipline, the appearance of talent can be an illusion. A person with discipline can develop nearly any talent or skill.

I make two promises to my Black Belt students. I make the same promises to those willing to sincerely embrace Black Belt Mindset:

  1. Within the scope of your talents and abilities you will be able to do anything you set out to do.
  2. You will learn how to discover, develop and cultivate your talents and abilities.

The process of that development is discipline.

Simple; not easy!

Like this article from Jim Bouchard? You will love his books! 

About Jim Bouchard

Martial arts transformed Jim’s self-perception from former drug abuser and failure to successful entrepreneur and Black Belt. As a speaker and author of Amazon bestseller Think Like a Black Belt, Jim tours nationally presenting his philosophy of Black Belt Mindset for corporate and conference audiences. He’s a regular guest on TV and radio programs including FOX News, BBC Worldview and FOX Across America.

2 Comments


  1. Discipline is what turns talent into success. There isn’t much worse than unrealized potential. It takes discipline to bring talent to life – and realize full potential.

    Discipline is about thinking as much as doing. An ultra creative mind (talent) that can’t focus (discipline) on the issue at hand adds no value to the business. Innovation, to have value, has to have the ability to be applied.


  2. Nice article… and I could not agree more. I have promoted the concept of “simple disciplines” with teams for many years. Not fancy, not difficult, not sexy, not glamorous – yet dramatically powerful. Discipline is consistent execution. Nice article.

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