The Talent Code
The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else
by Daniel Coyle 2009
Four of five stars ****
Imagine yourself locked in a small room with millions of buttons sitting in front of you, each one firing impulses that could make the difference between success and failure. How would you know which button to push? How can we save the sequences of buttons that work the best while ignoring those that don't? This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma that the brain faces every day when it needs to learn something new.
Daniel Coyle uses brain science to decode the processes that need to happen for great skill and expertise to emerge. It all starts with individual nerve fibers and myelin. As we fire and use nerve fibers repeatedly, we wrap the wonderful insulation of myelin around the nerves that need to get used the most. This makes the firing of those neurons faster and more powerful. As we learn a skill, myelin builds up around the requisite nerves and stays there to enhance mastery. As we age, the myelin slowly breaks down and the skills fade away, but there is some good news that it can be rebuilt even in old age with the proper efforts. It turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks- it just takes longer.
The author visited what he calls talent hotbeds all over the world- in Brazil, Russia, Curacao, and elsewhere to see where some of the most interesting sporting and music successes emerged from. He details his conversations with the people he met, and comes up with a formula for attaining bigger and better skills.
First- he recommends something he calls deep practice, where you get in the zone between what you can currently do and what you want to do. Trial and error fine tunes the right actions and myelin builds up as skills build up. His teachers and their hotbeds show how taking in the whole, then chunking the skills into manageable portions gets students on the path to mastery. They repeat these chunks until they feel right, and then move on to the next chunk, and the next, until the desired level is reached.
Second- he talks about something called ignition, without which people give up before they can get anywhere. The right kind of igniters, which he calls primal cues, can inspire people deep down and light a fire that powers years and years of deep practice. If you don't care, or don't think something is possible, you don't go through the painstaking trial and error phase. Only once you have a vision and a purpose do you have what it takes to create myelin and mastery. Thus talent isn't always about natural ability. If nurtured and inspired properly, world-class talent can arise from average people.
Third- the author recommends master coaching, which is hard to find. He points out some fantastic coaches who knew exactly what each individual student needed, and gave it to them at just the right time. This chapter is valuable for teachers at all levels. There are plenty of real-world examples of master teachers, including an entire chapter on the KIPP charter school movement, and much food for thought for both students and would-be teachers.
All in all, a good book on how to become more talented in whatever you choose to pursue.