The Little Book of Talent – Release Date: August 21 2012
Posted by Dean Holden at July 21st, 2012
By Daniel Coyle, Author of “The Talent Code”, June 12th, 2012
We just arrived in Alaska, where we’re spending a big chunk of the summer. So far, everything’s going well: family and friends are healthy, weather’s been solid, and during this morning’s coffee, we had an official welcoming committee: a newborn moose calf and its mother ambling through the backyard.
Speaking of arrivals, it’s exactly 10 weeks until The Little Book of Talent publication date (August 21). As a way of marking the countdown, I’d like to update one of my favorite posts from about a year and a half ago, when I asked you readers to name the single best tip — the best advice, the best strategy, the best practice tool — they’ve ever received.
Your responses (all 71 of them) were terrific — so terrific, in fact, that it seems a shame to let them be buried in the comments section of the old post. So with that in mind, I’ve combed through the tips and selected my top four favorites.
- 1) Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast (from Greg Sumpter)
I think we typically want to learn a skill as quickly as possible, and be done with learning it. If we could only slow down, break things down into small reproducible parts, and excel in a smoother way, we would get to the end product with excellence much more quickly.
Why I like it: Because it keeps me focused on what really counts: being accurate and efficient, and letting the speed come later.
- 2) Start with the End in Mind (Bill Dorenkott, Head Coach of Ohio State Women’s Swim Team)
My 20-minute drive to work allows me quiet time to employ this rule for my day, week and season. I find it much easier to reverse-engineer a challenge than to fly by the seat of my pants.
Why I like it: Because there’s a huge gap between mere activity and targeted work; this saves me time.
- 3) Cultivate Awareness (Kent Bassett)
Instead of engaging in a running commentary about all the mistakes to avoid, and keeping a list of all the mistakes made, you should cultivate awareness. It fires the more unconscious, creative part of the mind. You can even say to yourself, “I’m going to play this passage, and I’m not going to try to avoid mistakes. I might even try to make mistakes.” This counter-intuitive technique allows you to play more freely, and often, with fewer mistakes.
Why I like it: Because rather than getting governed by your mistakes (always a danger), this helps you focus on mastering them.
- 4) Feel pain, not hurt (Markus)
Feeling pain is a signal of growing and improving. [Feeling] hurt is a signal of stop which pause the flow of skill development.
Why I like it: Because it makes clear the useful distinction between good pain (stretch, struggle, reach) and bad pain (ouch).
What I really like, however, is the idea that this master list of talent-development tips exists, and that we can make it even more useful by sharing it and adding to it as time goes on. So with that in mind, here’s the entire list.
A Sneak Preview — and a Question
Quick personal update: I’m working on a new book with a fairly audacious goal: to compile the world’s best talent-development advice into a short handbook for teachers, students, athletes, musicians, parents, coaches, and pretty much anybody.
The book will be called The Little Book of Talent, and it will contain around 75 rules — one rule per page. The rules will address how to improve your practice, increase your motivation, and make the most of the limited time you have.
Here’s a sneak preview:
- Rule: Remove Your Watch
When it comes to measuring practice, we reflexively obey clocks. We naturally presume that an hour-long practice is twice as good as a half-hour practice. This reasoning is faulty, because it creates the false expectation that you will succeed merely by filling the allotted time. Deep practice is not about time passing, but about the number of times you stretch yourself to the edge of your ability, make mistakes, and fix them. Studies show you can accomplish more learning in a deep 10 minutes than a shallow two hours.
So instead of counting minutes or hours, count your reaches. Instead of saying, “I’m going to practice piano for 20 minutes,” instead tell yourself “I’m going to do five reps of that new song.” Instead of planning to hit golf balls for an hour, plan to make 25 quality swings with each club.
- Rule: Practice in Short Segments
TV executives who schedule commercials have long known what scientists are just figuring out: your natural span of attention is around ten minutes. Therefore, it’s smart to organize your practice into short, intense sessions with a quick breather in between. Using short segments creates a clarity of target, and avoids the pitfall of mushy, vague practice. (This is one of the reasons coach John Wooden set up his drills to last around ten minutes each.)
Divide your practice into segments, with each segment focused on reaching for one particular goal — a new move in your repertoire. Don’t worry if you don’t perfect the move in that time — you can always come back to it. The point is not to get it perfect the first time, but to build a system that helps you improve steadily and systematically.
- Rule: Be Willing to Be Stupid
Being willing to endure the emotional burn of failure is a prerequisite for improvement, since without it we are cut off from the wellspring of our progress: reaching, failing, and learning from our mistakes. As baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock said, “Show me a guy who is afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy I can beat every time.”
- Rule: “Practice Begins When You Get it Right”
This is a saying from violin teacher Kimberly Meier-Sims, director of the Suzuki program at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I like it because it addresses the common misconception that our first moment of success represents the finish line. To the contrary: getting it right is not the finish, but the beginning. It marks the moment when the real work begins; the moment when you begin (through reaching and repetition) the process of taking ownership of your skill.
- Rule: Try Sh*t
Practicing the same thing over and over in exactly the same way seems like a smart thing to do. Problem is, it’s usually not. Studies show that variable practice — where you move around, experiment, try new things and see how they work — is far more effective than “blocked” practice with no variance. A good example is basketball free throws, where practicing from variable distances produces skill far faster than practicing from the same distance every time.
The reason this works is that embracing variability helps us sharpen our control — our ability to make small, crucial changes to adapt our performance to the situation. When we make a habit of experimenting — when we try sh*t, and do it systematically — we are increasing our ability to modulate our performance.