Well, frankly, there has been a significant amount of research on the matter of human performance and the development of skill/talent. Author, Daniel Coyle, has looked at the research and he also went on a road trip to what he calls “talent hotbeds”, places where great talent has been produced out of proportion to their size and perceived stature; for example, a Russian tennis club, a music school in Dallas, a soccer field in Brazil, and others.
Coyle shares what he learned in this excellent book, “The Talent Code”. The Talent Code covers three basic areas:
1) Deep practice. Practice is important to world-class performance. I guess everyone knew that already, huh? Well, sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to remind of everyone of the obvious. What might be a little more helpful is the understanding of “how” to practice. What constitutes “deep practice”? This is the kind of practice that separates the great from the not-so-great.
The understanding of “deep practice” involves an understanding of a substance called “myelin”. Myelin is the insulation that wraps around nerve fibers. According to Coyle, myelin turns out to be a very big deal in the development of skill. Myelin is increased through deep practice and, in turn, increased myelin affects the signal strength, speed and accuracy of the electric signals traveling through nerve fibers. This increase of myelin and its effect on neurons has more to do with skill development than had previously been realized.
2) Ignition. If a person is going to invest the amount of time and passion and concentrated, difficult practice that produces high-level skill, that person will have to be deeply motivated. This is the aspect of skill development that Coyle refers to as “ignition”. Coyle writes, “Where deep practice is a cool, conscious act, ignition is a hot, mysterious burst, an awakening.” This deep passion is a necessary part of the attainment of great skill.
3) Master coaching. World class talent requires help and feedback and guidance from disciplined, committed, coaches. Think of this as the wise, older sage who can tell the student what he can’t tell himself. The development of great skill seems to require the help of people who have the ability to grow talent in others.
Much of the content of “The Talent Code” reminded me of the book, “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin, they contain many of the same insights regarding the development of talent. I loved both of these books and they are both worth reading. One of the encouraging and motivating truths that these books reveal is that great skill can be attained by virtually anyone who is willing to sincerely and passionately make the necessary commitment to its development. But, as one of the lines in the book suggests . . . “Better get busy.”
Oak Lawn, IL