Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

One of my English school teacher is fond of repeating, “Talent is what you posses. Genius is what posses you” and would continue “you know and the world will know soon if you are a genius. Hence forget that part. Focus on acquiring talent”. Perhaps, he did sow seeds accidentally for talent focus that, when I saw this book “Talent code” without any homework (like checking in reviews or with my friends etc) I picked up the book. Thanks to my luck, I was not disappointed. This book is not “how to” or “work book” kind of a book. It is a why book with an excellent examples plus a new theory with a fine explanation for talent.

Any Psychology books or cognitive science books would neatly put the topology of ignorance in six terrains.
1. Explicit Ignorance: We know that we don’t know (Known un-knows)
2. Hidden Ignorance : We don’t even know that we don’t know (unknown unknowns)
3. Mis-knowns : We think, we know but we don’t know (ignorance masquerading as Knowledge)
4. Unknown knowns : We think we don’t but actually we do (Knowledge masquerading as ignorance)
5. Taboos / Off limit ignorance: It persists due to social conventions against asking certain type of questions itself in the first place
6. Blinkers or persistent ignorance: It persists due to refusal to look in to some type of answers to a perfectly legitimate question
Now, I asked myself about which ignorance terrain I can place my understanding of “talent”. Boy, I was in for many surprises. You could do your own exercise after reading this book.

Key points of this book are:
1. The way you practice determines how effectively you learn and master a given skill.
2. Myelin (it is dealt in detail, also check Wiki and other sources) is the insulation that wraps the nerve fibers, increases signal strength, speed and accuracy. The more we use, better we get at a given skill. It is well described to the point, you can say skill=Myelin.
3. Deep Practice, Ignition and Master coaching are the critical inputs for Talent / Mastery.
4. He also gives the famous equation but in a different format : Deep Practice X 10,000 Hours = WorldClass Skills

My childhood days, I was brought up with stories of Buddha, Arunagirinaathar (religion), Kalidasa (poetry), Newton (Science) and so on. In every case, the turning point is a split-of-a- second. Hence, I yet to fully reconcile with an idea, it can be done by deep practice without providence provided gift.

The value of the book resides in subscribing to the paradigm of “deep practice”. Don’t consider this book as an exhaustive one, but a pointer to focus in the Myelin direction. If you are less than 50 years, there is more hope – apparently it ceases to grow after that age band.

Dan has toured all over the world to be with various talent “hot spots” and sums up his observations. It includes Tennis Academies, Music training centers, Soccer trainings at Brazil, specific basket ball coaching centers, Vocal fine tuning centers etc. From a sampling perspective, perhaps, it could have been a little more “science” focused also to be robust – for example, some of the institutes admit precocious students in Math and other disciplines at very young age. I have no way to know if that would have altered the overall message. I am sure Dan would consider in his next edition.

Let me end this commentary with a story. A preacher was walking past a very well maintained and a lovely garden brimming with variety of flowers and other imposing trees. He commented to the owner of the garden, “ You and the Lord have created a beautiful garden”, “ yes” replied the owner with a smile and said “you should have seen this when he was maintaining this all by himself”. Point taken – Lord’s gift can take us only so far, work (minimum 10,000 hours please) is a must before one can see the garden. This book is all about how do you productively spent that 10K hours on what you want to acquire.

Thanks for reading this far…..



Nuz said...

Interesting read Madhu-San

Shruthi said...

Good one, Madhu-san!!
The 10K rule is gaining popularity.. Author Malcolm Gladwell also mentions repeatedly about 10,000-Hour Rule in his book "Outliers".

Ramesh N Raghavan said...

First of all Thanks for the pointer and lending the book, and it was a good and easy read.
Nice post and I did not know that unknowns can be classified in to so many varieties, now I am confused what variety this ignorance of mine falls (unknown unknowns?)..
Coming to the book, the author has picked up some good examples and he builds a convincing argument about the 3 main areas he focuses on. Deep practice was interesting in that it reinforces the good old saying "failures of foot steps to success". The example where he had asked us to try remembering the words (one list where the words are given, and the other one where there are missing letters and you have think that much more to form the word, and then recollecting them) was quite good. We probably can describe this in many other ways like concentration, focus, attention etc., but it does look like the brain with it's infinite capacity needs to be channeled and also forced to use some deeper circuits for it to form more permanent associations (or growing myelin in author's words). His examples about ignition are also good, and I am sure most of us can recollect some moment in our lives which probably made us make some of the choices we have made, from studies to career and beyond. On coaching, what I remember is the approach good coaches take towards customizing their inputs based on the student's level of skill and knowledge. It shows how important is the student-teacher ratio in schools to ensure that each student is really guided to succeed with the individualized attention and customized feedback.
The fact that Einstein's brain contained a lot more myelin (which the researchers did not think about much at that time) was also interesting..
In a way, the 10,000 hour rule just probably helps in building the myelin in a much more robust manner making the skills look so natural..
Coming to myelin, I have read in the past about the disorders caused by a lack of myelin, like the various demyelineating disorders of the brain. Often in neuroscience, understanding of the brain is achieved by looking at people with some disorders and correlating with the brain structures. When it comes to memory, I remember reading a book where the author used to repeat the phrase 'circuits that fire together bond together'. Myelin sheath growing over the connected circuits seem to be the other step which seals the connected neurons and help them stay together..Good news is that the author says that myelin grows at least till 50 :)
Overall, a good book with some insights which we can possibly try in own lives...
Sorry for the looong post...
Best Regards,
N.R. Ramesh.

RP said...

good to read and important message in it. thank u srinivasa ragavan

Nimmy said...

Interesting! Incidentally, I am now reading "Mindset" by Carol Dweck and it is all about the difference between natural ability and success acquired through hard work and effort! I think these two books are likely to be related and have content that overlaps!

Thirukumaran T said...


Popular movie dialogue (thiruvilaiyaadal) stuck my mind while reading 6 terrains of ignorance. Trying to map 6 terrians with Therinthathu (through eyes), Arinthathu(through ears), Purinthathu (through brain). Each has its role in acquiring, ignoring and grasping the knowledge. If you are buying this, you have larger permutations and combinations!

Beethovan carried on and produced world class symphonies after becoming completely deaf. It is as much providence provided gift as much as probably 10K hours he should have put during his pre-deaf years and as much as a flash of genius. It’s a judicious combo of providence, deep practice and flash of brilliance, best experienced than explained.


Suresh said...

I am sure there will be a move to ban this book in India as well as Gladwell's book. Imagine asking people to put in 10K hours of work in an environment where managers must be happy if engineers just turned up at office !!! I am suprised that the league of emerging Indian engineers has not yet called for a ban on such books which spread fear among their ranks!!! More than losing a job it is landing a job which may ask you to put in some effort which seems scary to most of the people!!!

Seriously speaking, someone has to get this into every engineer during their degree that you cannot progress without working hard. Very recently, in one of the internet groups (consisting of former colleagues) one senior person asked advice whether his son must join a Java course or .Net course after engineering. The basic criteria stated was that his son was not keen on slogging it out and wanted the one which was easy!!! As they say in Tamil, 'romba theliva irukanga'.


Pratap R C said...

Finally your post has given me the required nudge to complete and publish my post on 10x productivity for programmers. Should we now start coining the phrase, "10K rule for 10x improvement".

Keep posting Madhu-san ...

Pratap R C said...

Finally I got the nudge to publish my post on 10x productivity for programmers.

Keep posting Madhu-san ...

Mukund Srinivasan said...

Interesting indeed, Madhu-san. As always, you have a niche for picking interesting yet thought provoking topics (funnily enough, those two adjectives have a relevance in the context of the book review as well). What is interesting doesn't last, and until you put in the efforts (10K?), you wouldn't have any expertise to have a thought provoking discussion. The "instant gratification" era as I call it, is what the technology has given us - be it Instant Search, Live Streaming on You Tube, Twitter, etc. If instant gratification is the motto, and a big selling point for advertisers, where is the opportunity to build muscle memory? Time will tell which one's a better route, but hindsight always favors the tried and tested. Human interactions these days are based more on perception and less on reality. Reality is driven by the myelin type effect, whereas perception is at "instantaneous" value - this is relevant to the example Suresh provides regarding which technology to pick!

Mohanakrishnan said...


Thanks for the interesting post.
So here is another author who reinforces the importance of practice (Vs what you get at birth).
I have no problem with that - in fact, I think it is good as this will encourage more and more people to put in more hard-work to become better. But I personally don't like the 10000 hour barrier :-)
You pointed out that there is still some place for inspiration - like in the case of Buddha and Newton. I agree with you, but I don't think it is contradicting the message of the book. The book's rule is for the 99.9999% of those who make it in life. Among a million of those chosen few, there would be one who makes it by inspiration.
Even in the Buddha example, though the enlightenment came in a flash, he did spend many hours in meditation and thinking to prepare himself for the enlightenment.
I am definitely motivated to read the book, thanks for that :-)


பகலவன் கிருஷ்ணமூர்த்தி said...

Thanks Madhu, for the review. It sounds indeed an interesting book to read. Your presentation makes it more juicy :-)

I haven't heard about Myelin before. Very informative stuff. (But, the age band could have been better :-))


Ordos Incorporated said...

The typologies of ignorance fits in well with game theory. Minimax is a bit too technical for some. However von neumann used the euclidian postulates (shudder). I prefer to place those in a more practical pythagorean scheme. The extra two quite possibly are hidden postulates. Theoretical givens that arent given, and taken as givens. Playing the game by their rules. But its not their game and not their rules. Just dont bring it up in public or the jig is up. Thus they must stay hidden. The ones that dont know something is hidden fall into the four aformentioned categorys and the corresponding psychological payoffs.