The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
Daniel Coyle, Bantam Books 2009
Coyle calls it “deep practice”; research has actually found the method used by nearly every person that becomes a famous talent or even just “talented”, in any field of any stripe or flavor. In this engaging book, he gives diverse examples of “talent factories” and shows the surprising factors that tie them together. Hint: if the campus looks opulent and/or has lots of rich distractions then it’s not a talent factory.
This book has great study hints: e.g. you will invariably do much, much better in tests if you study less but test yourself more. It shows that situations where one is at the edge of ability, making a controlled number of mistakes –and correcting them immediately – is the far better way to practice.
Coyle partly details, why this is so: the right-on-the-edge-of-ability practice has told your brain where to re-enforce and speed up it’s wiring with myelin sheathing, irreversibly.
(I suspect, and have a bit of experimental evidence, that there’s more to it than that; the skills also move to new, unconscious locations in the brain, but I digress.)
Concurring with Geoff Colvin, he also cites case after case of great talent, showing that in every case, the talent arose from deep practice.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. You have to not just really carefully practice a lot, pushing yourself to improve, but the technique you’re developing has to be right, because you can’t ever unlearn it. Some tricks: slow it down, get expert coaching, and break it into manageable, learnable chunks.
Other tricks: learn the whole thing, every detail, until one cannot just get it right, but cannot, as the cliché goes, get it wrong. To facilitate this, practice in a place without any ostentation; the poverty triggers primal drives to succeed. Another tip: never blame the circumstances for a failure, learn to know the personal cause, and focus on creating manageable steps to fix it.
Of course, to work this hard, for so long, so austerely, there has to be enduring motivation; commitment. Coyle calls the event that sparks such study ignition, and details how ignitions occur.
Aside: I still remember my ignition in 2006; the wow moment:
“… hey! With this thing [a Thummer, the ancestor of my jammer] I have some slight hope of being a competitive keyboard player before I die of old age … and it looks like I could do things no pianist can do! … I just MUST have one!”)
The coaching section is great. You may not think it relevant: “who’s going to coach me in playing a completely new instrument?” you might well mutter. But it is for two reasons:
- It’s not impossible to find a piano teacher that can ignore the weird keyboard and listen to the sound. I did; she tells me what needs fixing in a musical sense.
- Not too long from now you will be the coach.
So get this book and do remember this chapter.