The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

by Daniel Coyle


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What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? This groundbreaking work provides readers with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.

Whether you’re coaching soccer or teaching a child to play the piano, writing a novel or trying to improve your golf swing, this revolutionary book shows you how to grow talent by tapping into a newly discovered brain mechanism.

Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.

• Deep Practice Everyone knows that practice is a key to success. What everyone doesn’t know is that specific kinds of practice can increase skill up to ten times faster than conventional practice.

• Ignition We all need a little motivation to get started. But what separates truly high achievers from the rest of the pack? A higher level of commitment—call it passion—born out of our deepest unconscious desires and triggered by certain primal cues. Understanding how these signals work can help you ignite passion and catalyze skill development.

• Master Coaching What are the secrets of the world’s most effective teachers, trainers, and coaches? Discover the four virtues that enable these “talent whisperers” to fuel passion, inspire deep practice, and bring out the best in their students.

These three elements work together within your brain to form myelin, a microscopic neural substance that adds vast amounts of speed and accuracy to your movements and thoughts. Scientists have discovered that myelin might just be the holy grail: the foundation of all forms of greatness, from Michelangelo’s to Michael Jordan’s. The good news about myelin is that it isn’t fixed at birth; to the contrary, it grows, and like anything that grows, it can be cultivated and nourished.

Combining revelatory analysis with illuminating examples of regular people who have achieved greatness, this book will not only change the way you think about talent, but equip you to reach your own highest potential.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553806847
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 49,625
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Daniel Coyle is the author of the New York Times bestseller Lance Armstrong’s War and Hardball: A Season in the Projects, and is a contributing editor for Outside magazine. He lives with his wife and four children in Homer, Alaska, where he coaches a rapidly improving Little League team.

Read an Excerpt

IntroductionThe Girl Who Did a Month's Worth of Practice in Six MinutesEvery journey begins with questions, and here are three: How does a penniless Russian tennis club with one indoor court create more top-twenty women players than the entire United States? How does a humble storefront music school in Dallas, Texas, produce Jessica Simpson, Demi Lovato, and a succession of pop music phenoms? How does a poor, scantily educated British family in a remote village turn out three world-class writers? Talent hotbeds are mysterious places, and the most mysterious thing about them is that they bloom without warning. The first baseball players from the tiny island of the Dominican Republic arrived in the major leagues in the 1950s; they now account for one in nine big-league players. The first South Korean woman golfer won a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament in 1998; now there are fortyfive on the LPGA Tour, including eight of the top twenty money winners. In 1991 there was only one Chinese entry in the Van Cliburn piano competition; the most recent competition featured eight, a proportional leap reflected in top symphony orchestras around the world. Media coverage tends to treat each hotbed as a singular phenomenon, but in truth they are all part of a larger, older pattern. Consider the composers of nineteenth-century Vienna, the writers of Shakespearean England, or the artists of the Italian Renaissance, during which the sleepy city of Florence, population 70,000, suddenly produced an explosion of genius that has never been seen before or since. In each case, the identical questions echo: Where does this extraordinary talent come from? How does it grow? The answer could begin with a remarkable piece of video showing a freckle-faced thirteen-year-old girl named Clarissa. Clarissa (not her real name) was part of a study by Australian music psychologists Gary McPherson and James Renwick that tracked her progress at the clarinet for several years. Officially, the video's title is, but it should have been called The Girl Who Did a Month's Worth of Practice in Six Minutes. On screen, Clarissa does not look particularly talented. She wears a blue hooded sweatshirt, gym shorts, and an expression of sleepy indifference. In fact, until the six minutes captured on the video, Clarissa had been classified as a musical mediocrity. According to McPherson's aptitude tests and the testimony of her teacher, her parents, and herself, Clarissa possessed no musical gifts. She lacked a good ear; her sense of rhythm was average, her motivation subpar. (In the study's written section, she marked “because I'm supposed to” as her strongest reason for practicing.) Nonetheless, Clarissa had become famous in music-science circles. Because on an average morning McPherson's camera captured this average kid doing something distinctly un-average. In five minutes and fifty-four seconds, she accelerated her learning speed by ten times, according to McPherson's calculations. What was more, she didn't even notice. McPherson sets up the clip for us: It's morning, Clarissa's customary time for practice, a day after her weekly lesson. She is working on a new song entitled “Golden Wedding,” a 1941 tune by jazz clarinetist Woody Herman. She's listened to the song a few times. She likes it. Now she's going to try to play it. Clarissa draws a breath and plays two notes. Then she stops. She pulls the clarinet from her lips and stares at the paper. Her eyes narrow. She plays seven notes, the song's opening phrase. She misses the last note and immediately stops, fairly jerking the clarinet from her lips. She squints again at the music and sings the phrase softly. “Dah dah dum dah,” she says. She starts over and plays the riff from the beginning, making it a few notes farther into the song this time, missing the last note, backtracking, patching in the fix. The opening is beginning to snap together-the notes have verve and feeling. When she's finished with this phrase, she stops again for six long seconds, seeming to replay it in her mind, fingering the clarinet as she thinks. She leans forward, takes a breath, and starts again. It sounds pretty bad. It's not music; it's a broken-up, fitful, slow-motion batch of notes riddled with stops and misses. Common sense would lead us to believe that Clarissa is failing. But in this case common sense would be dead wrong. “This is amazing stuff,” McPherson says. “Every time I watch this, I see new things, incredibly subtle, powerful things. This is how a professional musician would practice on Wednesday for a Saturday performance.” On screen Clarissa leans into the sheet music, puzzling out a G-sharp that she 's never played before. She looks at her hand, then at the music, then at her hand again. She hums the riff. Clarissa's posture is tilted forward; she looks as though she is walking into a chilly wind; her sweetly freckled face tightens into a squint. She plays the phrase again and again. Each time she adds a layer of spirit, rhythm, swing. “Look at that!” McPherson says. “She 's got a blueprint in her mind she 's constantly comparing herself to. She 's working in phrases, complete thoughts. She 's not ignoring errors, she's hearing them, fixing them. She 's fitting small parts into the whole, drawing the lens in and out all the time, scaffolding herself to a higher level.” This is not ordinary practice. This is something else: a highly targeted, error-focused process. Something is growing, being built. The song begins to emerge, and with it, a new quality within Clarissa. The video rolls on. After practicing “Golden Wedding,” Clarissa goes on to work on her next piece, “The Blue Danube.” But this time she plays it in one go, without stopping. Absent of jarring stops, the tune tumbles out in tuneful, recognizable form, albeit with the occasional squeak. McPherson groans.“She just plays it, like she 's on a moving sidewalk,” he says. “It's completely awful. She's not thinking, not learning, not building, just wasting time. She goes from worse than normal to brilliant and then back again, and she has no idea she 's doing it.” After a few moments McPherson can't take it anymore. He rewinds to watch Clarissa practice “Golden Wedding” again. He wants to watch it for the same reason I do. This is not a picture of talent created by genes; it's something far more interesting. It is six minutes of an average person entering a magically productive zone, one where more skill is created with each passing second. “Good God,” McPherson says wistfully. “If somebody could bottle this, it'd be worth millions.” This book is about a simple idea: Clarissa and the talent hotbeds are doing the same thing. They have tapped into a neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build skill. Without realizing it, they have entered a zone of accelerated learning that, while it can't quite be bottled, can be accessed by those who know how. In short, they've cracked the talent code. The talent code is built on revolutionary scientific discoveries involving a neural insulator called myelin, which some neurologists now consider to be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Here 's why. Every human skill, whether it's playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse-basically, a signal traveling through a circuit. Myelin's vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out. When we fire our circuits in the right way-when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note-our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become. Myelin is important for several reasons. It's universal: everyone can grow it, most swiftly during childhood but also throughout life. It's indiscriminate: its growth enables all manner of skills, mental and physical. It's imperceptible: we can't see it or feel it, and we can sense its increase only by its magical-seeming effects. Most of all, however, myelin is important because it provides us with a vivid new model for understanding skill. Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals. The more time and energy you put into the right kind of practice-the longer you stay in the Clarissa zone, firing the right signals through your circuits-the more skill you get, or, to put it a slightly different way, the more myelin you earn. All skill acquisitions, and therefore all talent hotbeds, operate on the same principles of action, no matter how different they may appear to us. As Dr. George Bartzokis, a UCLA neurologist and myelin researcher, put it, “All skills, all language, all music, all movements, are made of living circuits, and all circuits grow according to certain rules.” In the coming pages we 'll see those rules in action by visiting the world's best soccer players, bank robbers, violinists, fighter pilots, artists, and skateboarders. We 'll explore some surprising talent hotbeds that are succeeding for reasons that even their inhabitants cannot guess. We 'll meet an assortment of scientists, coaches, teachers, and talent researchers who are discovering new tools for acquiring skill. Above all, we 'll explore specific ways in which these tools can make a difference in maximizing the potential in our own lives and the lives of those around us. The idea that all skills grow by the same cellular mechanism seems strange and surprising because the skills are so dazzlingly varied. But then again, all of this planet's variety is built from shared, adaptive mechanisms; evolution could have it no other way. Redwoods differ from roses but both grow through photosynthesis. Elephants differ from amoebas but both use the same cellular mechanism to convert food into energy. Tennis players, singers, and painters don't seem to have much in common but they all get better by gradually improving timing and speed and accuracy, by honing neural circuitry, by obeying the rules of the talent code-in short, by growing more myelin. This book is divided into three parts-deep practice, ignition, and master coaching-which correspond to the three basic elements of the talent code. Each element is useful on its own, but their convergence is the key to creating skill. Remove one, and the process slows. Combine them, even for six minutes, and things begin to change.

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Talent Code 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want o understand how to motivate yourself, your children, anyone you may be coaching - or - if you're looking for a coach or teacher - then this is THE book for you! Well researched, insightful, scientifically sound - and a darn good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read this book for a class assignment. I was planning on reading it anyways but I thought it was very enlightening. The ideas are not earth shattering but interesting with the type of context he puts it all in. I truly believe anyone especially youth league coaches should read this really shows the importance of learning the correct way the first time. What I liked about it was it isn't just about athletics but about anything anyone wants to be successful at. I liked the idea of deep practice. A must read if you are a teacher or coach...
MikeMcCann More than 1 year ago
Readable, groundbreaking and informative. Would have benefitted from a format suited to applying the priniciples to everyday life; summary of points, etc...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is entertaining and interesting. It dispels some myths about talent and learning and shows how a person can develop excellent skills without possessing natural talent. Anyone interested in teaching and learning should read this book.
ezDave More than 1 year ago
There are a few ideas in this book, but it appears to me to be one of those cases where the author had an single idea then forced enough other material in to call it a book. Some of the arguments just don't make it. Pick and choose examples carefully and you can make any argument. Too bad, I was hoping for more. Borrow it, read it fast, maybe you can get a little something from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book fascinating. It is a must read for anyone dealing with children.
parkinglady01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After seeing a news segment about this particular book, I interlibrary loaned the book from a neighboring university. Thankfully, the book was readily available. After reading it, I really wish that the learning techniques were known and made available to me when I was 12 ¿ but now as a 50-something lady, I can¿t really chase my dreams of becoming a tennis pro. But had I ¿known¿ the techniques, I definitely could have been. This book reemphasizes the age old mantra: ¿Practice Makes Perfect.¿ Now with the research to back that up, we know now (through Coyle¿s book) that by extensive practicing, the nerve connections actually remember the ¿correct¿ way to do something ¿ whether it¿s how to sing, swing a tennis racket, etc. And after extensive repetition, our brains react quicker, and most importantly, correctly.
motjebben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An easy and fun read speculating on (with some evidence to back it up) the role of myelination as a chief component of of talent. As Coyle writes: "Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals." It is this insulation that makes those circuits FASTER and more efficient.Hence, talent, might well be described by circuits that have been well myelinated due to deep practice over many years (Coyle mentions the 10,000 hour hypothesis that one may hear elsewhere, too).Coyle hypothesizes that Talent is the result of IGNITION (of desire to learn something), followed by DEEP PRACTICE (which requires that one struggle just beyond the limits of one's present capabilities so that mistakes are made and corrected), coupled with MASTER COACHING where a mindful coach knows just how to provide the proper feedback that enhances this deep practice. Struggle is necessary and essential.Note that though my review mentions myelination as does Coyle's book, "The Talent Code" is NOT technical and is a VERY EASY read - I recommend it to anyone!I first became interested in this book when one of my favorite authors, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, referred to it in his book, "The Mindful Therapist". Knowing the rigor of Dr. Siegel in his own works, and Dr. Siegel's command of neuroscience, I extrapolate that Daniel Coyle must have done a reasonable job in synthesizing a story on talent and myelination.How does one do "Deep Practice?"Coyle suggests three rules: 1. Chuck it up: Absorb the whole thing. Break it into chunks. Slow it down. 2. Repeat it. 3. Learn to feel it.Read Coyle's book to learn more!
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
Can't ever resist a book on brain science. This book is pretty light on the neuroscience, really. I mean, it's there, but it's really the stories that capture the audience. The author goes from talent hotbed to talent hotbed to try to figure out why it pops up in certain places. In a nutshell, talent isn't born, it's grown (through myelin) through ignition, deliberate practice, and great coaching. But you can't want it or force it on your kids, the ignition has to come from within because the practice can't be rote - it has to be deliberate. Such a great, insightful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: Wolfe Howl Age:16 Talent:Magic
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gavin, 18, Sword skills
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cameron,girl,15 sings.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book that I've ever read to explain how we learn and provides an easy to understand method to accomplish whatever skill or concept you set as a goal. Implementing the techniques in this book has resulted in immediate improvement in my learning curve.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it
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SassiAani More than 1 year ago
Great Book to Read.
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capejohn More than 1 year ago
If your a coach you really should read this book. It will give you a good insight in the ways to get the best out of your players. The characters will all seem familiar because we know teachers and students who are just like those in the book. When I speak to parents and coaches I always mention this book as a reference to my coaching style. The Talent Code is one of those books where you can't go wrong if you buy it.