The Talent Code
The Talent Code
– Daniel Coyle
It is a popular belief that talent or skill is either present in an individual naturally or is acquired from the environment in which he or she lives. Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, talks about how these are not the sole determinants of a person’s skill. With the help of findings obtained from his neurological research on the subject, Coyle demonstrates how talent and skill are things we have some control over. For that, all we have to do is to follow a three-fold combination or the “talent code”- deep practice, ignition, and master coaching.
Coyle uses the example of Renaissance Florence to illustrate his point. In the 15th century, there was a spurt in the number of painters and artists in Florence. This could not be just because of genes, as that would not explain why there were so many talented painters spanning just a few generations. Neither could it be because of the environment. Florence, at that time, was not exactly the peaceful, prosperous setting that is believed to trigger artistic growth. The best explanation, instead, is obtained when one looks at the growing number of craft guilds during that period, wherein young boys worked as apprentices to great masters. Therefore, what created the artistic spurt was not nature or nurture, but consistent practice.
The Talent Code links the idea of “practice is everything” to the production of a substance called myelin in our body. All our actions, thoughts, feelings, skills, etc depend on the transmission of electric impulses through specific neural circuits. These neural circuits are each encased by a layer of myelin. Until recently, this layer was considered to be merely for insulation. Coyle’s research proves how myelin is instead an important determinant of a person’s skills. Just as a wider road enables the smooth and fast flow of traffic, a thicker layer of myelin enables fast and precise transmission of signals. This, in turn, makes the person proficient in a particular skill.
Coyle travelled to some of the talent hotbeds of the world, and used his findings to come up with the “talent code”. The first important component of this code is what he calls deep practice. Even a small action that we do involves the firing of complex neural circuits. When we practise consistently and those particular neural circuits are fired regularly, the encasing layer of myelin gets thicker. This leads to faster, stronger, and more accurate transmission of impulses, resulting in skill enhancement. However, deep practice does not mean doing the same thing over and over. If we do that, only existing circuits are fired and that does not stimulate myelin growth. Deep practice involves going beyond one’s present capabilities and making mistakes. Only then can new neural circuits get activated and the myelin layer thickened. One thing we can do is to break down an action into several small units and perfect each unit. This type of deep practice is what gives great performers their fluidity and ease.
The second component of the “talent code” is ignition. For a person to be motivated enough to put in so much effort into the practice of a particular skill, there needs to be some sort of external cue. Coyle gives the example of golf in South Korea. It was after Se Ri Pak won a major tournament that there was a large number of successful golfers from South Korea. This was because one person’s achievements motivated others to become proficient in the sport. Some kind of external motivation is crucial to the mastery of a particular skill because only then will a person devote so much time to practising it.
The third component links the other two. A master coach influences and brings together the aspects of deep practice and ignition. He or she needs to be able to adapt extensive knowledge to the needs of individual students, to bring the best out of each learner. Each learner is unique and therefore requires a specific coaching style. For example, in the case of a shy learner, it would be best if the coach is friendly and encouraging. Also, the focus of coaching depends on the level of motivation of a learner and the stage of learning. Coaching, for an already skilled, highly motivated learner tends to focus more on deep practice, whereas for beginners, it tends to focus more on ignition and motivation. Another important duty of a coach is to give clear, precise instructions so that the practice is most effective.
Once we have the “talent code” right, there is no need to shy away from mastering a new skill. Also, why worry about making mistakes when that is how you can learn faster and better?
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