The Talent Code

By Daniel Coyle

This is an absolutely fascinating book about how talent is created.  Popular opinion has for years said that it occurs randomly by chance or “lucky genes,” but Coyle goes deeper into the science behind talent, and breaks down something called myelin, which is really the key to it all.

Talent is developed with three important factors: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching.

Deep practice builds at a molecular level something called myelin.  Myelin is basically an insulation that wraps itself around neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.  From a baby learning to walk, to a young child learning to play the violin, to a gymnast improving her skill, myelin is working in each person.

This book has so many practical applications in every day life.  It follows very closely along the lines of habit forming.  I was explaining this to my five year old son the other day, as he was getting frustrated with his reading lesson.  As I explained how each time he figures out what a word says, another layer of myelin wraps around his “reading skills” neural circuits, he began to get excited too.  Now, when he’s struggling to learn something new and finding it difficult, we both get excited about all the myelin he’s growing!

We need to make mistakes in order to learn.  We can’t just passively watch a demonstration of something and then go out and replicate it, we need to try and fail, and then try again, and again, and again, in order to attain any level of success.  This explains why someone who is a “natural” at something right off the get go won’t go any further unless they combine it with deep practice.  Being naturally gifted means you still need to push yourself hard in order to produce the myelin necessary to long term success and “talent”.

It’s imperative to be passionate and persistent about what you are doing, because generating enough myelin to become “talented” at something requires a lot of time and effort.  You’ve probably heard the saying that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to make you a success or an expert.  You can’t achieve that without a lot of motivation.

Ignition is all about a series of tiny signals that helps create an identity.  They lead us to the moment in which we say, “That could be me.”  That’s the moment where the passion is born.  One signal is not enough, there needs to be enough of them to really “light the fire”

Coyle made an interesting observation about kids who succeeded wildly in a music class in a lower income school, versus kids whose “talent” and motivation petered out significantly, even though they came from a more privileged school, and had things like enough instruments for each child, the right sized instruments, a good environment to play in, etc.   When you recognize the value of something, you are less likely to take it for granted.

Master Coaching

Many of the best coaches in the world, be it in music, sports, or something else, aren’t some special guru who knows “the secret” to creating great talent.  Rather, they possess the ability (that they have themselves developed through years of deep practice) to meet each student where they are at, and constantly push them just a little beyond their ability.  They don’t approach teaching with a “one size fits all mentality”.  They are able to see what the student is capable of, even if he doesn’t recognize it himself, and push him to achieve that level.

With only 10 chapters and a lot of anecdotes mixed in with the more “science-y” parts, this book was pretty easy reading and engaging.  Definitely worth your time if you are interested in learning about skill and talent and how they develop in each person!  As a parent and a teacher, I loved this book for the perspective it offers on teaching, and bringing out the potential of each person.


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