Book review: The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code brings us on a tour of the brain to explain how talent is acquired, weaving the science (and sometimes bold assumptions about the reptilian brain) with plenty of illustrative stories and anecdotes reminiscent of Gladwell's Outliers. Basically there's no such thing as "innate talent", only hard work :-) The 10,000 hours rule is mentioned a few times.

We learn that it's all about the myelin, a substance that wraps around synapses to make the signal between 2 neurons less likely to "leak" and therefore makes the impulse arrive stronger and faster. This explains why, as we become more skilled at something, it feels more effortless. This is also why there is no shortcut for practice: to become good at something, you need to fire the signal over and over again to build myelin around the right synapse/behaviour you want to excel at. This cannot be done by reading books, where different signals would be fired.

The premise for the book is the author's curiosity with regard to "talent hotbeds", these places in the world that seem to consistently produce top talent -- be it in football, classical music, tennis, etc. We follow the author in his travels and interviews, and while looking at these places with him we come back again and again to myelin, while also realising the importance of "deep practice" and why it makes a huge difference when learning a skill.

We also look at ignition, the initial motivator that gets someone started learning a skill, as well as how one's environment and personal circumstances impact the likelihood that they will keep at it until they become an expert. Ignition needs to be fuelled to sustain motivation, and having an environment full of cues that tell you that "you should learn this, you should do this" helps -- cues that talent hotbeds appear to have in abundance.

Great coaches and teachers are also mentioned, including references to studies that investigate what these people do that make them great. For instance one study discovered that 75% of the remarks imparted by a coach during training were purely informational and offered at key moments, as opposed to constant compliments or criticisms.

There are a couple of pictures and diagrams included, cuts of myelinated (huh... spelling?) cells, others to explain the myelination process. Very cool!