Totheralistair's Reviews > The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
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Jun 21, 2010

Notes on The Talent Code

Daniel Coyle

I like this book immensely, no matter what you read below :). This note is a reminder to me, not a book review :). The first third of this book goes over what is also very well presented in "Talent is Overrated").

Book in 3 parts:

1. Practice
2. Motivation
3. Coaching

He defines "Talent" in a way that is different from anything I've seen, but aligns to his intention with the word, namely, to remove it from genetics. Most people (or at least me), think of whatever "talent" is, by definition is the inherited part of the magic, and "skill" is what one develops. "Talent", according to some online dictionaries, is "endowment: natural abilities or qualities", emphasizing the genetic part of the story. By contrast, Coyle defines "talent" as "the possession of repeatable skills."

It's convincing while reading the book, but on reflection, I find it troubling that he redefines a word to take out the exact part that the word captures. If talent is not the word for the genetic part, what is the word? Tiger Woods, Michael and Mozart's competitors all did the same amount of practice they did, but weren't as good. There's still something that makes some professionals _much_ better than the professional around them, and I'd like a word that captures that. Or that captures the way that some people just step into a skill area and pick it up seemingly instantly.

There is a word for what he is after, and it is Expertise. Ericsson is careful to use this word in the book _Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,_ which is a correctly named book. Also, Geoff Colvin's book "Talent is Overrated" uses the term "talent" to mean the inherited part, and is also a correctly named book. Coyle should really use the word "expertise" also (except then the book would be called "The Expertise Code" which wouldn't sell as well. Oh well).

Coyle's "Deep Practice" is really just Ericsson's "Deliberate Practice" set to fewer syllables and attached to his brand (not good). However, he does use it in places where the phrase Deliberate Practice doesn't work so well, so he has a bit of an excuse.

"Struggling in certain ways makes you smarter". And the 1st third of the book is how to do that.

Deep / Deliberate Practice is about breaking the thing into smaller and smaller pieces (he says "chunking", but "splintering" is closer to what he describes in the book), practicing each chunk (splinter) in isolation, visualizing the full result, and repeating. Actually, Colvin/Ericsson point out that one also needs a measurable target to test against, which Coyle doesn't.

Coyle's agenda in the first part of the book is the same as Colvin: Talent is overrated, i.e., deliberate practice regularly turns an average person into a better performer than a talented person without practice – that is the first shocker of modern research into this business (mostly thanks to Ericsson, I think). In Coyle's nice turn of phrase: "We each have more potential than we might ever presume to guess."

I actually think that would have been a great subtitle or lead for this book. Wow.

p. 84 Meadowmont students break their music into measures, cut them out, and practice measures in random order, practicing them in various non-written ways (in note-pairs, slowly, fast, anything).

p.86 Zimmerman researched "Is it possible to judge ability solely by the way they talk about how they practice"? (Yes): goals, planning, strategy choices, self-monitoring, adaptation (conceptual understanding that allowed them to control and adapt their performance, fix problems, and to customize their circuits to new situations; thinking in chunks, built into a private language of skill).

p. 88 Ericsson's research shows most professionals practice only 3-5 hours / day (deep/deliberate practice is tiring!)

Part 2 is about motivation

p 104 Students with long term commitment practicing few hours / day did better than students w short-term commitment practicing many hours / day; and accelerated as they did more hours practice / day.

P 108 "Each signal is about future belonging". WOW. "Those people over there are doing something terrifically worthwhile" (you could be part of that)

Pause at p 130


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