The Little Book of Talent

Summary Written by Alyssa Burkus
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

- Aristotle, quoted in The Little Book of Talent, page ix

The Big Idea

You can build talent through hard work. (Lots of it.)

"Small actions, repeated over time, transform us."- The Little Book of Talent, page xviii

We see incredible skills in those at the top of their game, and our own abilities seem to pale by comparison. If you add it up though, those at the high end of the talent pool have gotten there through extraordinary practice – extensive repetition, focused skill building, and in many cases, with the help of an excellent coach. Coyle emphasizes that talent is not genetic, and can be learned. In the early stages of skill development, hard work might be in the form of slow repetition, or mirroring the experts. Later, as you are deepening your skill, it might be through visualization or perfecting it step by step.

The development of talent rests solely with you. You may hire a coach, or work with others as part of a group, but only you can do the work. As my trainer friend says, “You’ve got this.” Let’s talk more about how to focus your practice and develop your talent.

Insight #1

Build A Deep Practice And Reach the Sweet Spot

" …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."- The Little Book of Talent, page 13

While repetition is part of it, the quality of your practice, and how far you push yourself, is key to talent mastery. Coyle encourages us to build a deep practice, where we reach beyond our comfort zone to push into developing stronger skills, by asking “if you tried your absolute hardest, what could you almost do?” Pushing the boundaries of your ability becomes the “sweet spot”, and it is “right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest.”

To build a deep practice where you’re continuing to reach, Coyle has a number of tactics, from breaking it down into chunks, making a game of it through exaggerating different actions or approaches, or picturing the perfect moves just before you fall asleep, because sleep “strengthens connections . . . and prepares the brain for the next session.”

How long will all of this take?

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Insight #2

Time, Grit And Perseverance Are Key

"You will encounter challenges; you will hit snags, plateaus, and steep paths; motivation will ebb and flow... (you need) to deal with immediate obstacles while staying focused on the horizon."- The Little Book of Talent, page 95

Failure is part of developing a deep practice, but it can also impact your motivation. Coyle says it takes, on average, eight weeks to build a new skill, because your brain needs time to grow and incorporate the physical changes you’re making. If you get stuck, try a different perspective or approach, and be determined to stick with it.

The book is helpful for those of us who work as coaches, and is a reminder that coaching is a skill that also requires development. Coyle emphasizes connecting emotionally to the learner, being specific in your guidance, and nurturing passion in your learner by encouraging reach and lifelong learning.

I feel like my skills are always a work in progress, but as I read this book, I realized that while there are things I would like to improve, I have not committed to truly nurturing my talents with deep practice, or persevering with practice beyond my comfort zone. Failure is scary, but only you have the ability to reach your talent’s fullest potential, and embracing your practice with effort and dedication will get you there.

Read the book

Get The Little Book of Talent on Amazon.

Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Little Book of Talent, The Talent Code, Lance Armstrong’s War, and Hardball: A Season in Projects. A contributing editor for Outside Magazine, he is a two-time National Magazine Award finalist. Coyle lives in Cleveland, Ohio during the school year and in Homer, Alaska, during the summer with his wife Jen, and their four children.

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