The Little Book of Talent: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: August 29th, 2012 by bobmorris

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills
Daniel Coyle
Bantam Books/A Random House imprint (2012)
Lessons learned from “hotbeds” of creativity about how best to develop talents to their full potential
For more than 20 years, Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University have conducted research on peak performance.  The results thus far have been discussed in dozens of books and articles, including Daniel Coyle’s earlier book, The Talent Code, as well as Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.
In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle gratefully acknowledges the importance of Ericsson’s research, agreeing with Colvin and Gladwell that greatness isn’t born; rather, it is developed by a combination of luck (i.e. being “given” opportunities); ignition (i.e. self-motivation activated by one or more “primal cues”), what Coyle calls “deep practice” (i.e. 10, 000 hours of focused and disciplined repetition, requiring an energetic and passionate commitment), and master coaching provided by “talent whisperers” who “possess vast, deep frameworks of knowledge, which they apply to the steady, incremental work of growing skill circuits, which they ultimately don’t control.”
In his latest book, Coyle focuses on myerlin in the Appendix, as he did in The Talent Code when observing, “We are myelin beings” and adding, “it’s time to rewrite the maxim that practice makes perfect. The truth is, practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect. And myerlin operates by a few fundamental principles” that explain where extraordinary talent (defined as “the possession of repeatable skills that don’t depend on physical size”) comes from and how it can be developed.
According to Dr. George Bartzokis, professor of neurology at U.C.L.A., myerlin is “the key to talking, reading, learning skills, being human.” It is a neural insulator that, Coyle explains, some neurologists now consider to be “the holy grail” of skill acquisition because every human skill “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 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.” Better yet, “we are all born with the opportunity to become, as Mr. Myelin [viewed as broadband] likes to put it, lords of our own Internet. The trick is to figure out how to do that.”
What we have in Coyle’s latest book, The Little Book of Talent, is a collection of 52 “Tips,” several from his research for The Talent Code but many additional ones from his visits to various “hotbeds” of creativity during a five-year period. They include a “ramshackle” Moscow tennis club, a “humble” Adirondacks music camp, an inner-city charter school in San Mateo (CA), a Dallas vocal school, and a ski academy in Vermont as well as to major laboratories and research centers at which research continues on the new science of talent development. He explains how and why the combination of intensive practice (under strict and expert supervision) and motivation produces brain growth.
“Why brain growth? Because developing talent is all about growing the brain. `Muscle memory’ doesn’t really exist, because our muscles simply do what our brains tell them to do. This, the new science can be summed up as follows: You want to develop your talent? Build a better brain through intensive practice.”
All of us possess undeveloped talents in areas of no interest to us but there are other areas that do interest us in which our talents are under-developed. So what? The best career advice I have yet encountered is to do what you love and love what you do. All well and good but the challenge remains: How to do what you love well enough to have a career doing it? The “new science of talent development” reveals HOW and Coyle provides a non-scientific explanation in his latest book. Hence the importance of myerlin to “building” and then applying a better brain.
Of course, as is often the case, there’s bad news and good news. First the bad news: Most people lack the motivation to commit the time, energy, and attention that intensive practice requires. What’s the good news? Most people lack the motivation to commit the time, energy, and attention that intensive practice requires.
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