Book Review: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Book Reviews

thetalentcodeI originally picked up “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle because his idea about acquiring skills intrigued me. His tagline was “Greatness isn’t born, It’s grown.” For a generation of 80’s kids who were told we were intelligent, and so fusing the ideas of talent and nature, this was an fascinating idea. Did he really have information to back it up?

Coyle’s overall thesis is that talent doesn’t depend on nature; it depends on practice. This is vastly different from the way most of us, including me, consider the greats of history. Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven – all people we think of as being born with innate ability to do what they did. But Coyle shows that not only did these experts simply put in the hours, the major talent hotbeds around the world follow in their footsteps.

Coyle uses stories from his travels visiting talent hotbeds around the world to walk through three major requirements if you want to be great. It starts with Deep Practice, having to do with the Myelin neural insulator, moves on to Ignition, and finally needs Master Coaching. He lays out the information well, guiding you through each section with a bit of science, a few stories, and commentary. Despite the science and statistics, his writing is engaging and easy to read. There were several times I found myself caught up in the emotions of a particularly triumphal story.

In addition, throughout the book, he dropped tons of pearls of wisdom: like the fact that the Bronte sisters had at least 10,000 hours of writing under their belt before they produced the books they’re famous for (and we have the horrible early writing now to prove it); or that masters in chess recognize patterns not individual pieces; or that experts uniformly practice between 3 and 5 hours a day irregardless of the skill they’re pursuing; or even that kids praised for ability did far better than kids who were praised for their intelligence! The book is literally a gold mine of interesting studies around talent.

His main ideas revolve around Myelin. Myelin is what wraps around “roads” in your brain to make them super-fast “highways” which leads to habits and/or skills. And what he says about Myelin matches perfectly with Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit”. Just as Duhigg argues that you can’t undo a habit (you should simply change part of it),  Myelin can’t be unwrapped except by disease or age. Once you’ve got those habits or skills, you will always have them – maybe not in the same degree (if you stop practicing/exercising them) but they’ll always be there.

mustReadOverall, I thought Coyle’s book was a good introduction to the idea that talent comes from practice, not innate skill. He added just enough science to support the idea, while keeping it grounded with stories from his research into major hotbeds of talent from around the world.

If you’re at all interested in how to be better at anything, I’d mark this one as a Must Read. You can also check out his blog The Talent Code.