Talent and How to Get It

I love reading about how our brains work so I really enjoyed The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.  The book covers the way that our brains get good at tasks (by very careful, “deep practice” not because of some innate genius that was fully formed in us at birth) and discusses ways we can fully develop and use the talents we have.

I found the book incredibly helpful both personally and as a parent.  By unpacking the component parts of skill mastery, the authors make it easier to wrap your head around how to improve, and also how to teach others to build their talents.

For example, I thought it was helpful to know that short amounts of daily practice are more useful than long spurts of less frequent work.  At this stage of my life I don’t have eight hours a day to devote to learning a language, playing the piano, or even writing.  The book confirmed something I’ve seen play out in my own experience: deep practice can only really happen for a couple of hours a day anyway.  You may have heard this described as “flow” or “being in the zone”–I can personally only sustain that kind of work for a couple of hours at a time.  Even though I love that space, it makes me tired.  And, the authors note, that’s a symptom of deep practice.  I found that both interesting and encouraging!  You can make real progress even in short spurts when you’re in a busy season of life.  It reminds me of Jillian Michaels’ admonishments in her short but hard workouts that “this will take the place of hours phoning it in at the gym.”

As a parent, I liked that The Talent Code offered specific guidelines for deep practice that could help kids.  The authors point out that to really learn things deeply we need to grapple with ideas and concepts, a process that is often lacking in institutional school settings, but which can be fostered at home during homework or instrument/sports practice or in a homeschool setting.  The section on how to ignite a passion for practice will be particularly helpful for parents.  I was inspired to think about how to give my kids a strong vision and a healthy identity so they will see themselves as people who work hard towards their best and pursue excellence.

If you teach in any capacity, whether you’re a parent or not, you’ll get a lot out of this book.  I made a lot of notes about teaching in general that I’ll apply in parenting, homeschooling, and professionally.

I’ve noticed a trend lately wherein successful authors write a shorter distillation of big idea books as a follow-up (I’m thinking of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, or Bringing Up Bebe and Bebe Day by Day).  Sometimes that works and sometimes it’s too repetitive, but in the case of Daniel Coyle’s follow-up The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, I think you’d find enough difference to make it worth your time.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read The Talent Code first.  You could still apply the ideas without reading the broader explanation, but I doubt it would be as effective.

In The Little Book of Talent, Coyle goes into greater detail and gives additional examples of deep practice.  I was interested to note how much current research parallels concepts you can find in Charlotte Mason’s writings on habits and education (I love it when things overlap!)–for example, rather than spending endless hours doing things, just aim for a small but intense session of practice that nets a couple of close-to-perfect results, doing things in shorter episodes, and focusing on how ideas tie things together rather than just using unconnected facts.

Both of Coyle’s books are fascinating, well written, and extremely helpful, and I’d highly recommend them both.

What are you practicing these days?  


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