-“You’re either born with it or you aren’t!”
-“That person is so gifted!”
-“They just have it, they’ve got an innate talent!”
Many times these kind of phrases come to mind, especially in moments of struggle. After a bad gig it’s easy to let go and just believe that maybe there is a lack of talent. That innate gift given by the gods is only for a chosen few. Maybe it’s time to give up and do something ordinary, instead of aiming for things that are way above ourselves.
Recommended by a dear friend, last week I had a chance to read a very fascinating book by Daniel Coyle, called “The Talent Code (Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown)”. It’s a beautiful read, especially if you’re interested in what talent is and how it works.
The key message of the whole book is that talent isn’t something your are actually born with, but something you rather develop over time. There is an actual code or formula that Daniel Coyle breaks down into 3 sections which are the core parts of what creates talent:
Also known as deliberate practice, comes from many hours of repetition. Doing something over and over for a long period of time enables your brain to produce myelin aka “the talent cell”. Myelin is that substance that protects and insulates the electrons that travel through our brain. More myelin equals more confidence and less effort in any action you are performing. For example, when you start learning how to play drums, your brain is bombarded by a million questions: “Am I playing too loud? Too quiet? Where is the kick pedal? Am I playing on the right drum?…”
After years of practice, all these questions are redundant and that is why when you see drummers that have been playing for a while everything they do seems effortless.
An important part of deep practice is to break down your main goal into chunks. The easiest and fastest way to achieve your goal is to actually deconstruct your main objective in small parts and learn each section separately. Once you nail those individually, you can start joining every piece of the puzzle together.
Sometimes deep practice is not enough. In fact being able to practice for many hours every single day requires a great deal of motivation. One factor that certainly helps growing an interest in learning a particular skill is the environment where we live in. Have you ever asked yourself why Brazil keeps producing some of the best football players in the world? Or how come that in the 15th century the best artists all came from Florence, Italy?
For a moment imagine that a 5 year old Brazilian boy wants to learn how to play football. He will see every single day his dear friends playing on the streets and getting better every day. This will create cues that will ignite his motivation to be like them in the future. In the 15th century Florence was the Mecca for art: Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci all came from there. At that time in Florence, young apprentices (starting at 7 years old) spent many years learning their master’s skills. Those skills weren’t on textbooks, but rather painting, sculpting and sketching.
The problem with motivation is that it doesn’t last forever. Some days we feel like practicing for hours, while others we just hate our instrument and don’t even want to see it. So how can we keep that motivation fire lit? In the last chapter of the book Daniel Coyle advocates the importance of great teachers/coaches. The best ones usually have 30/40 years teaching experience and don’t do pep talks or inspiring speeches. They manage to offer small targeted highly specific adjustments which will help the student to quickly understand what is wrong and how to fix it.
The correlation of these 3 main factors will produce what today we call talent:
Focusing on how talent really works can definitely help get rid of all those questions of self-doubt that sometimes pop into our heads. Knowing that innate talent is not real is key to always be willing to learn and get better at any craft.
“Every artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
‘till next time