Reading Time: 2 minutes

My book review this week is on The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, by Daniel Coyle. In this book, Coyle digs into what he calls talent hotbeds – these surprising places around the world that turn out an unusual amount of talent. He investigates how and why these places, often run-down and underfunded, are able to successfully groom normal people – those without extraordinary talent.

Coyle spends considerable time explaining the latest research on myelin – which Dr. George Bartzokis, a neurology professor at UCLA, described as “the key to talking, reading, learning skills, being human.” (p. 32) The book thesis is that “skill is insulation that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.” (pp. 177-178).

The book offers recommendations on how to build better skills – by growing myelin. Some takeaways include:

  • Deep practice is the type of work that we do when we are in the zone. It involves practicing at a level where you are forced to slow down, you will make mistakes, you fix them, and then, you repeat the process over and over. Deep practice grows our myelin.
  • “The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does.” (p. 19) “Deep practice is assisted by the attainment of a primal state, one where we are attentive, hungry, and focused, even desperate.” (p. 44)
  • Ignition is Coyle’s name for that spark that drives individuals to continue practicing. Those that successfully create that spark, do so through primal cues that create a huge amount of energy. Examples of primal cues include a sense of belonging to something great, a feeling that things are not safe, or a feeling of being behind, and needing to catch up.
  • The best coaches are able to focus on the student, and the specifics of what he/she is doing or saying. From there, they are able to recognize what is happening in the stumbling around, and address it. This requires coaches to have significant technical skills in the area where they are coaching. Does this make a case for technical project managers on IT projects?
  • Kaizen is a type of deep practice. It’s about continuously seeking to improve, about identifying small problems, and fixing them. (p. 210) When something goes wrong, ask why, over and over, until you understand the root of the problem.