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The Talent Code: A book review by Bob Morris

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How
Daniel Coyle
Bantam Books (2009)

In this book, Coyle duly (and gratefully) acknowledges the importance of Anders Ericsson’s research, 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.”

At one point is his narrative (Page 72), Coyle declares, “We are myelin beings.” OK, but so what? When tapping into a neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice builds skills, we create entry to “a zone of accelerated learning that, while it can’t quite be bottled, can be accessed by those who know how. In short, they’re cracked the talent code.” What about myelin? According to Dr. George Bartzokis, professor of neurology at U.C.L.A., it is “the key to talking, reading, learning skills, being human.” It is a neural insulator that, Coyle claims, 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 the 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.”

As Coyle suggests, “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. Although it is possible to “overlay research such as Ericsson’s with the new myelin science to formulate a universal theory of skill” (i.e. deep practice X 10,000 hours = world-class skill), it is important to keep in mind that “the truth is more complicated than that.” I am grateful to Daniel Coyle for providing such an entertaining as well as informative book, that that has increased substantially my understanding of how to “grow” talent. His is a brilliant achievement.


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