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The Talent Code

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Review: Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Here’s how. Issue.com: Rabberson Docs (Extract from Chapter 1 – The Sweet Spot) 50 years ago, schools, trainers, coaches etc, once carried an assumption, “Talents are born in those who are blessed with these gifts”. These Talents are scouted in prestigious schools where auditions are held to determine if they had the natural talent in their niche before they are enrolled into a particular institution. No doubt this process has seen many greats that succeeded in making human history, does that mean that not everyone can be great? Is it inevitable that only a handful of “lucky” ones will be able to achieve greatness? Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown believes otherwise.

In December 2006, Daniel started out visiting places that produce large amounts of talents. Beginning in tennis in Moscow, Soccer in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Vocals in Dallas, Texas, California, and to Caribbean, so on and so forth. These “chicken wire Harvards” revealed, in his opinion, an unexpected pattern. He suggested that mainstream worldview expects to see a fantastical process or program to witness a world-class result from these talents. “Those expectations were met and exceeded — about half the time”, he states, “During the other half I witnessed something very different.” (1) In one particular case, Coyle introduced an 11 years old boy, Brunio, who practices a ball handling movement, elastico, in a very peculiar pattern. It was slow and had momentary pauses through each step of the process before there was what Coyle describes as the “Sweet spot” as the boy started to nail the move. (1) Coyle went on to share different stories yet each spotting the same pattern, a pattern he would like to call, “deep practice”.

Coyle argues that Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways –operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes — makes you smarter. (1) He draws conclusion from a simple exercise that he wrote in his book, to maintain the point that it wasn’t how hard one works, but how deep one practiced. It was a brilliant way for Coyle to explain how deep practice allows us to achieve great results in an effective and efficient way. It also brought clearer meaning, having deep practice to hitting the sweet spot and resulting in increased mastery of one’s own skill. He quoted Robert Bjork, “We think of effortless performance as desirable, but it’s really a terrible way to learn.” Bjork cited an experiment by psychologist Henry Roediger, two groups of students having different ways to study for a paper. Having to prove the theory of deep practice, Bjork reasoned that we typically think of our memory as a tape recorder.

He moved on to argue that the mind is a living structure, the more we generate impulses, overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build, and thus, the faster we learn.(1) Coyle followed up his findings by explaining the context of each story. For instance, Brazil, known for producing the world’s best soccer players wasn’t always great at producing soccer players in the 1940s and 1950s. What made the story unique was how the limitations Brazilian players had, in terms of locations spaces and training experiences. Yet a game that took Brazil by storm became the missing link to making history, Futsal or “soccer in the room”. Other nations played futsal, Brazil, on the other hand, became uniquely obsessed with it. Futsal, due to its constraints, allowed players to practice their movements more deeply, therefore producing their talents.(1)

Coyle’s argument was a familiar yet challenging one, and he cited stories to support his arguments in a structural yet scalable way that you are able to use his illustrations in many different situations. These stories were persuasive in a way that it touches the hearts of many who had dreams yet was disappointed by the “reality” of institutions and standards that the world has set in many places. He drew an impressive picture of Brazil from how she started as a normal country to one that prides herself with her own champions. Having used such stories, although persuasive, it seems to be biased into defending the underdogs by proving the point there talents aren’t born but rather, made. Many events proved that there are people who truly are, born with talent.

For instance, Michael Phelps’ coach spotted Phelps’(2) due to his unique constitution that allows him to take less time to recover from each training, his long arms and double jointed ankles allow him to be a world leading champion in swimming. Phelps’ was never labeled as a great swimmer but a man born with talents that propelled him greatly in the swim world. Beethoven(3), a man that was the world’s most prominent and talented figure in the music world through his love of his craft, yet his most famous works occurred when he was deaf. In Chapter 1 “The Sweet Spot” Coyle, may have perhaps, misrepresented the idea of discipline as well. Describing the idea of deep practice being reinforced by fun stories masked the rigor that each individual had to go through within their own niche.

Living in an “efficient” world, many want a quick fix to life, missing the point of effort and perseverance will soon lose interest in the proposition Coyle wishes to share through “The Talent Code”, resulting in a lack of transformation within readers. In Summary, Coyle’s book is describes an interesting and fun account of deep practice and the “Sweet Spot”. At least from the extract that I have read, it offers a fairly biased view of his argument, focusing only on one concept and failing recognize that many other truths exist in this world. I do, however, agree with his theory of deep practice. To some extent, with the right attitude, one can achieve mastery of almost anything. Personally, I would not have been able to play a guitar and piano on my own without having the right attitude of deep practice.


(1) Daniel Coyle, April 2009, The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Here’s how. Bantam Books, Random House (2) Spiegelman, Ian. “Michael Phelps’ Freakish Physique Explained.” Gawker. Gawker, 17 Aug. 2008. Web. 05 Apr. 2013. (3) Ludwig Beethoven.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Apr 11 2013, 10:53 http://www.biography.com/people/ludwig-van-beethoven-9204862.

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