The Little Book of Talent - By Daniel Coyle

ISBN: 
978-0345530257
Date read: 
May 6, 2018
Rating: 
9
/10
See My Collection of 100+ Book Notes

My Thoughts

Amazing distillation of the success principles found in his other books. It's super short, really actionable, and incredibly inspiring. Read 'The Talent Code' for more in-depth info.

Summary Notes

While the underlying neuroscience is fascinating and complex, it all adds up to the basic truth: Small actions, repeated over time, transform us.

Talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high-performing person or group. This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them.

#1 - STARE AT WHO YOU WANT TO BECOME

You would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers. I’m talking about staring—the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.

Fill your windshield with vivid images of your future self, and to stare at them every day.

#2 - SPEND FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY ENGRAVING THE SKILL ON YOUR BRAIN

Watch and listen so closely that you can imagine the feeling of performing the skill, until you build a high-definition mental blueprint.

#3 - STEAL WITHOUT APOLOGY

When you steal, focus on specifics, not general impressions. Capture concrete facts: the angle of a golfer’s left elbow at the top of the backswing; the curve of a surgeon’s wrist; the precise shape and tension of a singer’s lips as he hits that high note; the exact length of time a comedian pauses before delivering the punch line. Ask yourself:

   • What, exactly, are the critical moves here?

   • How do they perform those moves differently than I do?

#4 - BUY A NOTEBOOK

What matters is not the precise form. What matters is that you write stuff down and reflect on it. Results from today. Ideas for tomorrow. Goals for next week. A notebook works like a map: It creates clarity.

#5 - BE WILLING TO BE STUPID

Being willing to be stupid—in other words, being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes—is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and forms new connections

When practicing playing music: “If a passerby can recognize a song, it’s being played too fast.”

#6 - CHOOSE SPARTAN OVER LUXURIOUS

Simple, humble spaces help focus attention on the deep-practice task at hand: reaching and repeating and struggling. When given the choice between luxurious and spartan, choose spartan.

#7 - BEFORE YOU START, FIGURE OUT IF IT’S A HARD SKILL OR A SOFT SKILL

Figure out exactly what type of skill you’re building.

  • HARD, HIGH-PRECISION SKILLS are actions that are performed as correctly and consistently as possible, every time. Hard skills are about ABC: Always Being Consistent.
  • SOFT, HIGH-FLEXIBILITY SKILLS, on the other hand, are those that have many paths to a good result, not just one. Soft skills are about the three Rs: Reading, Recognizing, and Reacting.

#8 - TO BUILD HARD SKILLS, WORK LIKE A CAREFUL CARPENTER

Each fundamental, no matter how humble-seeming, is introduced as a precise skill of huge importance (which, of course, it really is), taught via a series of vivid images, and worked on over and over until it is mastered.

When you learn hard skills, be precise and measured. Go slowly. Make one simple move at a time, repeating and perfecting it before you move on. The first reps establish the pathways for the future.

#9 - TO BUILD SOFT SKILLS, PLAY LIKE A SKATEBOARDER

Soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments. When you practice a soft skill, focus on making a high number of varied reps, and on getting clear feedback.

#10 - HONOR THE HARD SKILLS

Most talents are not exclusively hard skills or soft skills, but rather a combination of the two. Prioritize the hard skills because in the long run they’re more important to your talent. Many top performers place great importance on practicing the same skills they practiced as beginners.

They resist the temptation of complexity and work on the task of honing and maintaining their hard skills, because those form—quite literally—the foundation of everything else.

#11 - DON’T FALL FOR THE PRODIGY MYTH

Talent hotbeds are not built on identifying talent, but on constructing it, day by day.

Do your best to ignore the praise and keep pushing yourself to the edges of your ability, where improvement happens. If you don’t have early success, don’t quit. Instead, treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

#12 - FIVE WAYS TO PICK A HIGH-QUALITY TEACHER OR COACH

  1. Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter
  2. Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little.
  3. Look for someone who watches you closely, is action-orient, and hyper-honest.
  4. Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions
  5. Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals
  6. Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person

People in the hotbeds have a different relationship with practicing.

Many of us view practice as necessary drudgery, but for them practice was the big game, the center of their world, the main focus of their daily lives.

#13 - FIND THE SWEET SPOT

Ask yourself: If you tried your absolute hardest, what could you almost do? Mark the boundary of your current ability, and aim a little beyond it. That’s your spot.

  • Comfort Zone
    Sensations:
    Ease, effortlessness. You’re working, but not reaching or struggling.
    Percentage of Successful Attempts: 80 percent and above.
  • Sweet Spot
    Sensations: Frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You’re fully engaged in an intense struggle—as if you’re stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips, then reaching again.
    Percentage of Successful Attempts: 50–80 percent.
  • Survival Zone
    Sensations:
    Confusion, desperation. You’re overmatched: scrambling, thrashing, and guessing. You guess right sometimes, but it’s mostly luck.
    Percentage of Successful Attempts: Below 50 percent.

#14 - TAKE OFF YOUR WATCH

Deep practice is not measured in minutes or hours, but in the number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make—basically, how many new connections you form in your brain.

Instead of counting minutes or hours, count reaches and reps.

#15 - BREAK EVERY MOVE DOWN INTO CHUNKS

  1. What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master?
  2. What other chunks link to that chunk?

Practice one chunk by itself until you’ve mastered it—then connect more chunks

#16 - EACH DAY, TRY TO BUILD ONE PERFECT CHUNK

Never mistake mere activity for accomplishment. Pick a single chunk that you can perfect—not just improve, not just “work on,” but get 100 percent consistently correct.

#17 - EMBRACE STRUGGLE

At all of the talent hotbeds, from Moscow to Dallas to Brazil to New York, I saw the same facial expression: eyes narrow, jaw tight, nostrils flared, the face of someone intently reaching for something, falling short, and reaching again.

#18 - CHOOSE FIVE MINUTES A DAY OVER AN HOUR A WEEK

With deep practice, small daily practice “snacks” are more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The act of practicing—making time to do it, doing it well—can be thought of as a skill in itself, perhaps the most important skill of all

#19 - DON’T DO “DRILLS.” INSTEAD, PLAY SMALL, ADDICTIVE GAMES

If it can be counted, it can be turned into a game.

#20 - PRACTICE ALONE

World-class performers spent five times as many hours practicing alone than non-world-class performers

#21 - THINK IN IMAGES

Whenever possible, create a vivid image for each chunk you want to learn. The images don’t have to be elaborate, just easy to see and feel.

#22 - PAY ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU MAKE A MISTAKE

People who pay deeper attention to an error learn significantly more than those who ignore it.

#23 - VISUALIZE THE WIRES OF YOUR BRAIN FORMING NEW CONNECTIONS

#24 - VISUALIZE THE WIRES OF YOUR BRAIN GETTING FASTER

#25 - SHRINK THE SPACE

Smaller practice spaces can deepen practice when they are used to increase the number and intensity of the reps and clarify the goal.

#26 - SLOW IT DOWN (EVEN SLOWER THAN YOU THINK)

Super-slow practice works like a magnifying glass: It lets us sense our errors more clearly, and thus fix them. It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.

#27 - CLOSE YOUR EYES

#28 - MIME IT

Removing everything except the essential action lets you focus on what matters most: making the right reach.

#29 - WHEN YOU GET IT RIGHT, MARK THE SPOT

When you have your first perfect rep. When this happens, freeze. Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind.

#30 -  TAKE A NAP

Spend time with any professional athletic team, and you’ll find that they’re also professional nappers.

#31 - TO LEARN A NEW MOVE, EXAGGERATE IT

Don’t be halfhearted. You can always dial back later. Go too far so you can feel the outer edges of the move, and then work on building the skill with precision.

#32 - MAKE POSITIVE REACHES

It always works better to reach for what you want to accomplish, not away from what you want to avoid.

#33 - TO LEARN FROM A BOOK, CLOSE THE BOOK

Closing the book and writing a summary forces you to figure out the key points (one set of reaches), process and organize those ideas so they make sense (more reaches), and write them on the page (still more reaches, along with repetition). The equation is always the same: More reaching equals more learning.

#34 - USE THE SANDWICH TECHNIQUE

  1. Make the correct move.
  2. Make the incorrect move.
  3. Make the correct move again.

#35 - USE THE 3 × 10 TECHNIQUE

To learn something most effectively, practice it three times, with ten-minute breaks between each rep.

#36 - INVENT DAILY TESTS

Daily routine in the talent hotbeds is full of little tests. The tests aren’t scientific, and they’re not treated as verdicts—they’re far more like targeted workouts

#37  - TO CHOOSE THE BEST PRACTICE METHOD, USE THE R.E.P.S. GAUGE

  1. R: Reaching and Repeating
  2. E: Engagement. Is the practice immersive? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you toward a goal?
  3. P: Purposefulness. Does the task directly connect to the skill you want to build?
  4. S: Strong, Speedy Feedback. Does the learner receive a stream of accurate information about his performance—where he succeeded and where he made mistakes?

#38 - STOP BEFORE YOU’RE EXHAUSTED

Exhaustion is the enemy. Most talent hotbeds put a premium on practicing when people are fresh, usually in the morning, if possible.

#39 - PRACTICE IMMEDIATELY AFTER PERFORMANCE

Just after a performance, game, or competition, practicing is probably the last thing you want to do. But it’s the first thing you should do, if you’re not too worn out, because it helps you target your weak points and fix them.

#40 - JUST BEFORE SLEEP, WATCH A MENTAL MOVIE

Just before falling asleep, play a movie of your idealized performance in their heads.

#41 - END ON A POSITIVE NOTE

A practice session should end like a good meal—with a small, sweet reward.

#42 - SIX WAYS TO BE A BETTER TEACHER OR COACH

  1. Use the First Few Seconds to Connect on an Emotional Level.
  2. Use eye contact, body language, empathy, and humor being some of the most effective—but whatever you use, make sure you prioritize that connection above all else. Before you can teach, you have to show that you care.
  3. Avoid Giving Long Speeches—Instead, Deliver Vivid Chunks of Information
  4. Be Allergic to Mushy Language
  5. All good teaching follows the same blueprint: Try this concrete thing. Now try this concrete thing. Now try combining them into this concrete thing.
  6. Make a Scorecard for Learning
  7. Maximize “Reachfulness”
  8. What kind of space will create the most reachful environment? How can you replace moments of passivity with moments of active learning?
  9. Aim to Create Independent Learners

#43 - EMBRACE REPETITION

From the age of sixteen onward, Norman hit eight hundred to a thousand balls a day, five days a week; calluses grew so thick on his hands he had to pare them with a knife.

#44 - HAVE A BLUE-COLLAR MIND-SET

From a distance, top performers seem to live charmed, cushy lives. When you look closer, however, you’ll find that they spend vast portions of their life intensively practicing their craft. Their mind-set is not entitled or arrogant; it’s 100-percent blue collar: They get up in the morning and go to work every day, whether they feel like it or not.

#45 - FOR EVERY HOUR OF COMPETITION, SPEND FIVE HOURS PRACTICING

Contests are thrilling. They also slow skill development, for four reasons:

  1. The presence of other people diminishes an appetite for risks, nudging you away from the sweet spot.
  2. Games reduce the number of quality reps.
  3. The pressure of games distorts priorities, encouraging shortcuts in technique.
  4. Games encourage players, coaches, and parents to judge success by the scoreboard rather than by how much was learned.

#46 - DON’T WASTE TIME TRYING TO BREAK BAD HABITS—INSTEAD, BUILD NEW ONES

Ignore the bad habit and put your energy toward building a new habit that will override the old one.

#47 - TO LEARN IT MORE DEEPLY, TEACH IT

#48 - GIVE A NEW SKILL A MINIMUM OF EIGHT WEEKS

#49 - WHEN YOU GET STUCK, MAKE A SHIFT

When it comes to developing talent, however, autopilot is the enemy, because it creates plateaus.

#50 - CULTIVATE YOUR GRIT

Grit is that mix of passion, perseverance, and self-discipline that keeps us moving forward in spite of obstacles. It’s not flashy, and that’s precisely the point.

#51 - KEEP YOUR BIG GOALS SECRET

Telling others about your big goals makes them less likely to happen, because it creates an unconscious payoff—tricking our brains into thinking we’ve already accomplished the goal. Keeping our big goals to ourselves is one of the smartest goals we can set.

#52 - “THINK LIKE A GARDENER, WORK LIKE A CARPENTER”

Talent grows slowly. You would not criticize a seedling because it was not yet a tall oak tree; nor should you get upset because your skill circuitry is in the growth stage. Instead, build it with daily deep practice.

Greatness is not born, but grown through deep practice, no matter who you are.

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