Cracking the Talent Code with Daniel Coyle and John Wooden


Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement, one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens and when it happens, it lasts.

The importance of repetition until automacity cannot be overstated. Repetition is the key to learning.

(John Wooden)”

In The Talent Code – greatness is not born it’s grown, Daniel Coyle aims at cracking The Talent Code i.e how people develop exceptional talent in different disciplines – from musical instrument to business to (in the case above) sport.

The quotes above, taken from this book, are from John Wooden, often referred as the Greatest Coach ever.

Tracking the Myelin

Drawing on significant scientific work, Coyle relates talent directly to circuitry in our brain and, to be more precise, to myelin, a fatty white substance that insulates and wraps neural circuits and grow according to certain signals.

The more myelin wraps around it, the faster the signals travel, increasing velocities up to one hundred times over signals sent through an uninsulated fiber. (…) The refractory time (the wait required between one signal and the next) decreases by a factor of 30. The increased speed and decreased refractory time combine to boost overall information-processing capability by 3000 times – broadband indeed.

These signals are transmitted when people practice the thing they want to develop talent in. The more we practice, the more we develop myelin, the better we get at what we do.

Coyle reckons it takes three things to develop talent :

  1. Deep practice : working on a technique and practice, stopping when there is something wrong, seeking constant critical feedback and focussing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses.
  2. Ignition : deep practice requires to put long hours in. It there is no ignition (read purpose an passion) there will not be deep practice
  3. Coaching : without coach to develop the specific weak points and provide critical feedbak, it takes far more time to develop talent.

Business side of developping talent

When it comes to business, the example given by Coyle to develop talent on a scale of a massive organisation obviousy is Toyota :

Thirty years ago, Toyota was a middling-size car company. Now it is the world’s largest auto-maker. Most analysts attribute Toyota success to its strategy of kaizen which is japanese for “continuous improvement” and which just as easily could be called corporate deep practice. Kaizen is the process of finding and improving small problems. Each employee, from the janitor on up has authority to halt the production line if they spot a problem. The vast majority of improvements come from employees ans the vast majority of these changes are small : a one-foot shift in the location of a parts bin for instance. But they add up. It’s estimated that each year Toyota implements around a thousand tiny fixes in each of its assembly lines, about a million tiny fixes overall.

What are you deep practices ? Who is coaching you ? How do you know you progress ? Needless to say : a mandatory read for anyone involved in talent management and developing people.


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