Saturday, April 4, 2015

Book Review: The Talent Code

In the talent code, author Daniel Coyle tells us that "Greatness isn't born. It's Grown.  Here's How" and I must say, the book really does deliver.

The premise of the book is simple.  Traditionally, there has been a misconception that certain people are born to do certain things.  When we look at a leader in any given field, we think that they were born to do this, it was in their genes.  The book aims to prove this notion false, providing instead an alternate explanation, and that is that we are all myelin beings.

Myelin is a insulating material grown on axons in the brain, essentially ensuring that electrical signal travels fast and without loss of amplification. The explanation follows that the more we practice something, the more Myelin forms around the neurons that make up that action.  The more myelin that forms, the better and more accurate the brain can transmit that signal.  This is essentially the difference between the tops in a given field and the average.

There are three elements needed to grow myelin: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching.  Combine these three, and you are destine to greatness in any field that you chose.

Deep practice is the concept that one must practice to be good at something, but it can't just be "any" type of practice.  The practice that helps grow myelin is "deep".  There are basically two components to deep practice.

1)  Practice at the edge of your ability
Essentially, practice is only effective if it pushes you. You have to practice something that makes you use your brain, makes you concentrate on what you are doing.

2)  Break down complex tasks into their core components, and practice those over and over

When practicing at the edge, you have to work to break the complex task that you are doing into it's core components.  By doing that, you can then create exercises to practice each of those core components.  The more you practices it, the more myelin will coat the electrical path in your brain.

Ignition is basically the passion behind what you are doing.  The author has many stories about leaders in their field and the various events that "triggered" their ignition.  Essentially, ignition is a switch, it is either on or off.  Further, you can trigger ignition using primal queues.  Most of these queues are tied to the words that we use. 

The last ingredient in talent is master coaching.  The best description of master coaching is from a quote in the book.  "Great teachers focus on what the student is saying or doing ... and are able, by being so focused and by their deep knowledge of the subject matter, to see and recognize the inarticulate stumbling, fumbling effort of the student who's reaching toward mastery, and then connect to them with a targeted message." 

There are four virtues to a master coach.

1)  The matrix
2)  Perceptiveness
3)  The GPS Reflex
4)  Theatrical Honesty


This was a great book and a great read.  What I liked about it is how it confirmed a lot of what I already though was true about talent.  Master coaches are required because they have already broken down a complex problem into it's parts, and are experts at teaching those parts and further .... the synthesis of those parts into the whole.  Because they have already practiced doing this with the art they are teaching, they have also applied this ability to the act of teaching itself.  They know to watch for queues, can adapt teaching patterns to the student, and are genuine people.  Ignition is the passion that keeps the student going forward.  For me, it was my uncle showing me how to make the background color on my C64 switch using basic.  After that, I was hooked!  Lastly, it is the deep practice.  If you are passionate about something, you are always going to strive to improve at what you are doing.  You can only do that by practicing at the edge.

I think my only criticism of the book is how "easy" the author makes this sound.  I guess after the years of research he has put into it, he sees it clearly and can articulate it well.  I, however, still feel that finding the combination of master coaching, ignition, and deep practice to be a rare thing.