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Archive for May 26th, 2009

My copy of The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle finally arrived last Friday. It’s a pretty quick read and very interesting. Coyle offers the following formula for greatness:

1. Ignition — the spark that gives a “vision” strong enough to motivate you to devote yourself to being able to do *that* (whatever *that* may be).

2. Master coaching — someone who is able to show you how to do *that* correctly and point out errors.

3. “Deep” practice — not just “practice” but practice that pushes your present skill level to an even higher level. It doesn’t have to be long, but it must focus upon the extending the limits of your present abilities.

Coyle refers to a finding by researchers called “the Ten-year Rule”: World-class expertise in every domain (violin, math, chess, piano, tennis, golf, etc.) requires roughly a decade of committed practice (approximately 10,000 hours). Thus, Coyle suggests that world-class skill is the result of deep practice x 10,000 hours. Of course, it isn’t quite so clean and neat as all that (and Coyle is quick to point this out) but this doesn’t seem unrealistic to me.

Though this is all a tad more naturalistic than we would like (the subtitle of the book is “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how.”) there is a great deal here from which to profit and, as I mentioned a few days ago, this is, I think, an important corrective to the way some of us have come to think regarding gifting and calling.

Somehow or other we think that if God has ordained us for a particular vocation (or given us gifts in sports, arts, or crafts), then excelling in that calling (or activity) will be relatively easy and painless. But excellence is never easy and attaining it is always painful. Coyle interviewed a number men and women who have become (or are in the process of becoming) world-class talents and asked them for words that described their sensations in their most productive practices. They responded with words like “attention, connect, build, whole, alert, focus mistake, repeat, tiring, edge, and awake.” Coyle observes, “Here is a list of words I didn’t hear: natural, effortless, routine, automatic.”

Gifts must be developed, trained, instructed, honed, sharpened, corrected, disciplined, and matured — and that doesn’t happen automatically or without sacrifice and hard work. But too often we give up something because it is difficult, thinking that it’s hard for us because we don’t have the gift or talent for it — when in fact, all we are really saying is, “I’m not willing to put in the time and effort to learn to do that well.” Coyle relates the story of an old, experienced piano teacher who upon meeting his father asked him if he ever played an instrument. Mr. Coyle remarked that he had tried piano but didn’t have the knack. “Didn’t have the patience, you mean,” replied the teacher. Exactly.

None of this means that God-given gifts and abilities are irrelevant but, as Coyle points out, we must not think of this so narrowly that we miss the amazing breadth of God’s gifts (I should say Coyle doesn’t speak of it this way, this is my reinterpretation). Here’s how Coyle puts it:

“This is not to say that every person on the planet has the potential to become an Einstein . . . Nor does it mean that our genes don’t matter — they do. The point, rather, is that although talent feels and looks predestined, in fact we have a good deal of control over what skills we develop, and we each have more potential than we might ever presume to guess.”

[continued later]

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