on 27 March 2014
This is a book about how to become really great at skills such as sports or music performance.
As a pro musician and music coach, I was obviously highly interested.
Coyle breaks down the three principles into the coding/practice part, "ignition"(broadly, inspiration) and coaching.
In essence there is no surprise here for anyone who spends their professional life in music practice and teaching.
True, it is interesting to read how the neuroscientific mechanism of myelin works (a sort of fatty reinforcement mechanism to nerve circuits needed for skills).
But in practical terms, knowing this doesn't to my understanding change much about how skills are acquired.
There are some very interesting detailed observations about individual master coaches and what makes them good.
Definitely an interesting and thought provoking book. Just-to be fair like most books of its type, like Malcolm Gladwell's-a bit of a padding out exercise. There are three key concepts. Good. Tell me succinctly how they work. Done. Next book.
I guess it would be more of a booklet or pamphlet but insofar as this is in the "how to" category -tell me his to and then let me go do it!
In any case, worth the money and worth reading, if perhaps selectively.
on 18 April 2013
Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code comes so close to an outrageous parody of every self-help book you've ever read that it is easy to be dazzled by the chutzpah of is author and to overlook the shoddiness of its logic.
A nature-or-nurture debate has continued since Victorian times over the importance of innate qualities (nature) versus personal experiences (nurture) in determining an individual's success. Coyle weighs in on the side of nurture. "Greatness isn't born, it's grown", he tells us. How greatness is grown depends on an understanding of a "talent code" that is "built on revolutionary scientific discoveries" (p. 5)
Coyle supports his argument with the evidence of nine "chicken-wire Harvards" (p. 11), "talent hotbeds" (p. 14) of greatness in different fields. For, though "these places shared nothing but the happy unlikeliness of their existence" (p. 12), their example has universal application. "All skill acquisitions... operate on the same principle of action" (p. 6). He will unlock the secret of skill in maths, art, music, sport and just about everything
Coyle argues that students at his hotbeds have discovered their "sweet spot" by "purposely operating at the edges of their ability, so they will screw up" (p. 19). This is "deep practice" (p. 16), a process in which one allows his/herself to fail in order to succeed, for "a microsecond of struggle can make all the difference" (p. 17). Failures and self criticism enable students to accelerate their learning.
Coyle's proposition is as extravagant and seductive as his promise: "you will not read a more important and useful book" (dustcover). Yet his hypothesis is not testable, his sample size statistically insignificant and even those few data points he gives us do not bear scrutiny.
Coyle offers no clear definition of any of his terms, like `greatness', `hotbed', `talent code', `sweet spot', `deep practice'. He does not frame his hypothesis in a way that might be tested, such as "in small communities that foster `deep practice' there is a higher likelihood of `great' performance". Instead, he attempts "proof by selected instances" (Thouless, 1953, pp. 15-21).
His sample size is tiny; he has not done the research to prove his theory statistically. Furthermore, every one of the cases he chooses as evidence is questionable. His main example, outstanding Brazilian soccer players, fails to acknowledge the spread of their geographic origins across that huge country (there is no chicken-wire Harvard here).
Coyle tells us nothing new. Notions such as "muscle-memory" acquired through extensive practice have been popular in coaching circles for years (Krakauer, 2006). Yet his up-beat success stories play reassuringly to the assumptions of our Protestant work ethic: that hard work and perseverance are redemptive (Weber, 1959).
For Coyle's thesis to be useful, we would need to understand: where and how nurture takes over from nature in the cultivation of greatness; how to mitigate risks for students; and, how to strike and maintain the balance between ambition and capability that will keep students in their sweet spot. He addresses none of this.
Most striking, perhaps, is Coyle's suggestion that this paradox - "talent hotbeds are mysterious places" (p. 1) - has survived so long in the face of the huge economic and competitive incentives to improve performance. For, even if Coyle's talent-code formula might now bestow competitive advantage on those who apply it, any edge thus acquired will soon be eroded as others practice his advice to attain greatness irrespective of the talents (or lack of them) that they were born with.
Does it matter that Coyle's language is emotional and his logic fallacious if he is merely advocating the sensible action of working hard to pursue one's goal? Yes it does, because Coyle underplays that second dimension of greatness: flair, creativity and imagination.
For example, we judge the excellence of ballet and gymnastics on both technique and artistry (USA Gymnastics, 2013). Practice, practice, practice might make you a virtuoso musician, but instrumental virtuosity is not sufficient to become the greatest of performers. This is the thinking behind "inner game theory" and it takes an opposite view to Coyle's. This holds that self-criticism results in fear, doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. We need to inhibit self-criticism to achieve top performance, so that our superior natural game can emerge (Gallwey, 2009). We need the self-confidence to let our minds wander and be creative, and not repeat the same old response when we come under pressure. This is a completely different talent, not so readily codified.
You'll laugh until you cry.
Gallwey, W. Timothy. (2009). The Inner Game of Stress: Outsmart Life's Challenges, Fulfill Your Potential, Enjoy Yourself. New York: Random House
Krakauer, J.W., & Shadmehr, R. (2006). Consolidation of motor memory. Trends in Neurosciences, 29: 58-64.
Thouless, Robert H. (1953), Straight and Crooked Thinking, London: Pan Books
USA Gymnastics: women's scoring (2013). Retrieved from [...]
Weber, Max. (1959) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Chas. Scribner's sons.
on 20 July 2009
Coyle's argument is reasonably easy to summarize--a catalyst "ignites" someone's passion to learn a skill (tennis, soccer, violin, piano), the skill is acquired by the hard work of "deep practice," abetted by "master coaching," with the outcome being "talent"--as Edison said of genius, it's more about perspiration than inspiration. To put it in the context of the old joke about how to get to Cargenie Hall, if you are asking about how to get there, your passion has been ignited--now you need to "practice, practice," and find a good coach to help you practice well.
The "Talent Code" explains the neurological process by which talent develops--every signal produced by "deep practice" adds a sheath of myelin to the brain's neural pathway for the signal, increasing the speed and strength of the transmissions across many myelin sheathed pathways. Master coaches reinforce the construction of these pathways by giving their charges large volumes of targeted, relevant information rather than praise or criticism--the information and the deep practice work together in a feedback loop until "talent" emerges at the macro level in the form of, say, a Lance Armstrong or a Michael Jordan. The success of one person from a given context (a city, a country, or a school, for example) will then ignite the passions of others similarly situated ("if she can do it, I can do it better"), which results in the emergence of the "talent hotbeds" that Coyle describes.
One take home concept for me is the idea that organizations that systematically identify and fix problems are more likely to succeed in the market place than those that do not. The poster child for this idea is Toyota, which has successfully implemented "kaizen" (continuous improvement) as a strategy. Kaizen is the process of finding and fixing small problems--no magic bullets, just one incremental improvement at a time, over and over again. Any employee is empowered to stop the Toyota assembly line if he or she spots a problem, and most of the company's solutions come from employees. Thousands of improvements over many years add up, and Toyota is now the largest auto maker in the world while the the Detroit Three teeter in and out of bankrupcty.
In a book of this length, of course, there's always a certain "just so" quality to the argument. We hear of all the examples of "talent hotbeds" and processes that tend to support the author's thesis, and we're left to wonder about how much contrary evidence might be out there. I'm sure that point will be well-debated in the years to come--in the meantime, the "Talent Code" will make me consider how I and the organizations I work with can become more "talented."