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The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

by

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. Cover

ISBN13: 9780553806847
ISBN10: 055380684x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

Introduction

The Girl Who Did a Month's Worth of Practice in Six Minutes

Every journey begins with questions, and here are three: How does a penniless Russian tennis club with one indoor court create more top-twenty women players than the entire United States?

How does a humble storefront music school in Dallas, Texas, produce Jessica Simpson, Demi Lovato, and a succession of pop music phenoms?

How does a poor, scantily educated British family in a remote village turn out three world-class writers?

Talent hotbeds are mysterious places, and the most mysterious thing about them is that they bloom without warning. The first baseball players from the tiny island of the Dominican Republic arrived in the major leagues in the 1950s; they now account for one in nine big-league players. The first South Korean woman golfer won a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament in 1998; now there are fortyfive on the LPGA Tour, including eight of the top twenty money winners. In 1991 there was only one Chinese entry in the Van Cliburn piano competition; the most recent competition featured eight, a proportional leap reflected in top symphony orchestras around the world.

Media coverage tends to treat each hotbed as a singular phenomenon, but in truth they are all part of a larger, older pattern. Consider the composers of nineteenth-century Vienna, the writers of Shakespearean England, or the artists of the Italian Renaissance, during which the sleepy city of Florence, population 70,000, suddenly produced an explosion of genius that has never been seen before or since. In each case, the identical questions echo: Where does this extraordinary talent come from? How does it grow?

The answer could begin with a remarkable piece of video showing a freckle-faced thirteen-year-old girl named Clarissa. Clarissa (not her real name) was part of a study by Australian music psychologists Gary McPherson and James Renwick that tracked her progress at the clarinet for several years. Officially, the video's title is shorterclarissa3.mov, but it should have been called The Girl Who Did a Month's Worth of Practice in Six Minutes.

On screen, Clarissa does not look particularly talented. She wears a blue hooded sweatshirt, gym shorts, and an expression of sleepy indifference. In fact, until the six minutes captured on the video, Clarissa had been classified as a musical mediocrity. According to McPherson's aptitude tests and the testimony of her teacher, her parents, and herself, Clarissa possessed no musical gifts. She lacked a good ear; her sense of rhythm was average, her motivation subpar. (In the study's written section, she marked “because I'm supposed to” as her strongest reason for practicing.) Nonetheless, Clarissa had become famous in music-science circles. Because on an average morning McPherson's camera captured this average kid doing something distinctly un-average. In five minutes and fifty-four seconds, she accelerated her learning speed by ten times, according to McPherson's calculations. What was more, she didn't even notice.

McPherson sets up the clip for us: It's morning, Clarissa's customary time for practice, a day after her weekly lesson. She is working on a new song entitled “Golden Wedding,” a 1941 tune by jazz clarinetist Woody Herman. She's listened to the song a few times. She likes it. Now she's going to try to play it.

Clarissa draws a breath and plays two notes. Then she stops. She pulls the clarinet from her lips and stares at the paper. Her eyes narrow. She plays seven notes, the song's opening phrase. She misses the last note and immediately stops, fairly jerking the clarinet from her lips. She squints again at the music and sings the phrase softly. “Dah dah dum dah,” she says. She starts over and plays the riff from the beginning, making it a few notes farther into the song this time, missing the last note, backtracking, patching in the fix. The opening is beginning to snap together-the notes have verve and feeling. When she's finished with this phrase, she stops again for six long seconds, seeming to replay it in her mind, fingering the clarinet as she thinks. She leans forward, takes a breath, and starts again.

It sounds pretty bad. It's not music; it's a broken-up, fitful, slow-motion batch of notes riddled with stops and misses. Common sense would lead us to believe that Clarissa is failing.

But in this case common sense would be dead wrong. “This is amazing stuff,” McPherson says. “Every time I watch this, I see new things, incredibly subtle, powerful things. This is how a professional musician would practice on Wednesday for a Saturday performance.”

On screen Clarissa leans into the sheet music, puzzling out a G-sharp that she 's never played before. She looks at her hand, then at the music, then at her hand again. She hums the riff. Clarissa's posture is tilted forward; she looks as though she is walking into a chilly wind; her sweetly freckled face tightens into a squint. She plays the phrase again and again.

Each time she adds a layer of spirit, rhythm, swing. “Look at that!” McPherson says. “She 's got a blueprint in her mind she 's constantly comparing herself to. She 's working in phrases, complete thoughts. She 's not ignoring errors, she's hearing them, fixing them. She 's fitting small parts into the whole, drawing the lens in and out all the time, scaffolding herself to a higher level.”

This is not ordinary practice. This is something else: a highly targeted, error-focused process. Something is growing, being built. The song begins to emerge, and with it, a new quality within Clarissa.

The video rolls on. After practicing “Golden Wedding,” Clarissa goes on to work on her next piece, “The Blue Danube.” But this time she plays it in one go, without stopping. Absent of jarring stops, the tune tumbles out in tuneful, recognizable form, albeit with the occasional squeak.

McPherson groans.“She just plays it, like she 's on a moving sidewalk,” he says. “It's completely awful. She's not thinking, not learning, not building, just wasting time. She goes from worse than normal to brilliant and then back again, and she has no idea she 's doing it.”

After a few moments McPherson can't take it anymore. He rewinds to watch Clarissa practice “Golden Wedding” again. He wants to watch it for the same reason I do. This is not a picture of talent created by genes; it's something far more interesting.

It is six minutes of an average person entering a magically productive zone, one where more skill is created with each passing second.

“Good God,” McPherson says wistfully. “If somebody could bottle this, it'd be worth millions.” This book is about a simple idea: Clarissa and the talent hotbeds are doing the same thing. They have tapped into a neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build skill. Without realizing it, they have entered a zone of accelerated learning that, while it can't quite be bottled, can be accessed by those who know how. In short, they've cracked the talent code.

The talent code is built on revolutionary scientific discoveries involving a neural insulator called myelin, which some neurologists now consider to be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Here 's why. Every human skill, whether it's playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse-basically, a signal traveling through a circuit. Myelin's vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out. When we fire our circuits in the right way-when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note-our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.

Myelin is important for several reasons. It's universal: everyone can grow it, most swiftly during childhood but also throughout life. It's indiscriminate: its growth enables all manner of skills, mental and physical. It's imperceptible: we can't see it or feel it, and we can sense its increase only by its magical-seeming effects. Most of all, however, myelin is important because it provides us with a vivid new model for understanding skill. Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals. The more time and energy you put into the right kind of practice-the longer you stay in the Clarissa zone, firing the right signals through your circuits-the more skill you get, or, to put it a slightly different way, the more myelin you earn. All skill acquisitions, and therefore all talent hotbeds, operate on the same principles of action, no matter how different they may appear to us. As Dr. George Bartzokis, a UCLA neurologist and myelin researcher, put it, “All skills, all language, all music, all movements, are made of living circuits, and all circuits grow according to certain rules.”

In the coming pages we 'll see those rules in action by visiting the world's best soccer players, bank robbers, violinists, fighter pilots, artists, and skateboarders. We 'll explore some surprising talent hotbeds that are succeeding for reasons that even their inhabitants cannot guess. We 'll meet an assortment of scientists, coaches, teachers, and talent researchers who are discovering new tools for acquiring skill. Above all, we 'll explore specific ways in which these tools can make a difference in maximizing the potential in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

The idea that all skills grow by the same cellular mechanism seems strange and surprising because the skills are so dazzlingly varied. But then again, all of this planet's variety is built from shared, adaptive mechanisms; evolution could have it no other way. Redwoods differ from roses but both grow through photosynthesis. Elephants differ from amoebas but both use the same cellular mechanism to convert food into energy.

Tennis players, singers, and painters don't seem to have much in common but they all get better by gradually improving timing and speed and accuracy, by honing neural circuitry, by obeying the rules of the talent code-in short, by growing more myelin.

This book is divided into three parts-deep practice, ignition, and master coaching-which correspond to the three basic elements of the talent code. Each element is useful on its own, but their convergence is the key to creating skill.

Remove one, and the process slows. Combine them, even for six minutes, and things begin to change.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

angelvamp_8, September 14, 2013 (view all comments by angelvamp_8)
This book was a great read! It really opened my eyes as to how your brain can help you when you practice correctly. What I took away from this book was that great skill requires deep practice and deep practice requires energy, passion, and commitment. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is learning/practicing any kind of skill. I'm a dancer and I think this book helped me to improve how I practice each week. I gave the book a 4 out of 5 only because the focus is all on people who play sports or instruments and I would've liked to have read about a broader range of examples. Overall though, very interesting, eye-opening, and informative.
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Linette, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Linette)
Loved the book! Good info into how repetition the right way makes a big difference.
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Ben Fenton, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Ben Fenton)
This is a significant book. Anyone who is trying to master a skill should read this. Want to learn how to wire up your brain for high performance? This is it! Coyle makes plain the research done on myelination and how it does what he calls "installing broadband in your brain." Top athletes do it, chess masters do it, and you can too! For a one, two, punch, read this as a companion to the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780553806847
Author:
Coyle, Daniel
Publisher:
Bantam
Subject:
Motivation (psychology)
Subject:
Ability
Subject:
Life Sciences - Human Anatomy & Physiology
Subject:
Neuropsychology
Subject:
Creative Ability
Subject:
Psychology-Mind and Consciousness
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20090431
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.5 x 5.7 x 1 in 0.8 lb

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Related Subjects


Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Anatomy and Physiology
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » General
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Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » General

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. Used Hardcover
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Product details 256 pages Bantam - English 9780553806847 Reviews:
"Review" by , "I only wish I'd never before used the words 'breakthrough' or 'breathtaking' or 'magisterial' or 'stunning achievement' or 'your world will never be the same after you read this book.' Then I could be using them for the first and only time as I describe my reaction to Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code. I am even willing to 'guarantee' that you will not read a more important and useful book in 2009, or pretty much any other year. And if all that's not enough, it's also 'a helluva good read.'"
"Review" by , "This is a remarkable — even inspiring — book. Daniel Coyle has woven observations from brain research, behavioral research, and real-world training into a conceptual tapestry of genuine importance. What emerges is both a testament to the remarkable potential we all have to learn and perform and an indictment of any idea that our individual capacities and limitations are fixed at birth."
"Review" by , “Daniel Coyle digs deep into the core of the insatiable desire to become 'better.' An amazing read with many practical applications for everyday life.”
"Synopsis" by , Albert Einstein, Pele, Charlotte Bronte, and Michelangelo: How did they all get to be such dazzling geniuses? Where did their greatness come from? The answer lies within their brains, in myelin, a neural substance that turns out to be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Those who have mastered their craft have lots of myelin. And you can too. You just have to learn how to grow it.

In this revolutionary book, New York Times bestselling journalist Daniel Coyle takes you on an illuminating journey across the globe to nine of the world's most prolific hotbeds of talent to reveal the key to unlocking human potential. From the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical music academy in upstate New York, Coyle is on the search for the clues that will answer some of the most intriguing questions about talent:

Why is one impoverished Russian tennis club able to put out more Top 20 women players than the entire U.S.?

How did all three Bronte sisters become literary all-stars?

How does a group of inner-city charter schools manage to send 80 percent of its students to college?

What enables a humble music school in a mall in Texas to produce a string of pop stars — including Jessica Simpson?

The secret to acquiring skill, Coyle discovers, comes down to three elements: the right kinds of practice, coaching, and motivation. When these three elements converge and you learn how to operate at the edge of your abilities, you activate the neurological mechanism that promotes the growth of myelin, the microscopic nerve-fiber insulator that adds speed and accuracy to your movements and thoughts. Combining vivid examples with deft analysis, this book will not only change the way you view talent, but enable you to reach your own fullest potential.

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