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updated: 2/14/2018 2:22 PM

Business book review: ‘The Talent Code’

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  • Vickie Austin

    Vickie Austin


Mozart was considered a child prodigy, Michelangelo a genius. What did they have that we don't have?

Nothing, according to author Daniel Coyle, other than layers and layers of something called "myelin" in their brains. In his book "The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How." Coyle follows a fascinating path to discovering the process that makes for greatness, offering us the opportunity to follow that path, too.

First, he shares with us the vital role of myelin as "the holy grail of acquiring skill." Every skill we develop is created by chains of nerve fibers which carry tiny electrical impulses, and myelin's role is to wrap and insulate those fibers as we execute the activity, whether it's playing the piano or sculpting David. Repeated practice adds new layers of myelin and the thicker it gets, the better our performance.

But enough with the brain science -- this book is filled with magic.

Coyle presents his findings, gained over two years, hundreds of interviews and 50,000 air miles, into three phases: Deep Practice, Ignition and Master Coaching. Deep Practice consists of learning through targeted, mistakes-focused sessions during which, he writes, "Struggle is not an option: it's a biological requirement." Ignition emphasizes the importance of modeling, as when a young Russian child watched Anna Kournikova reach the Wimbledon finals and asks herself, "If she can do it, why can't I?" Our imaginations are ignited by seeing someone perform and a new future is laid out before us. The concept of Master Coaching is best summarized by the tactics of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden who famously taught his players first how to put on their socks to prevent blisters.

From examples of kaizen at a Toyota plant and the brilliance of the guild systems during the Renaissance to stories about how Brazil became an unlikely hotbed for soccer players, The Talent Code is filled with examples of how greatness can be generated, often against all odds. No longer do we need to ask, is it nature or nurture? We, too, can fulfill on our talent through deliberation, practice, inspiration, great coaching and lots and lots of mistakes.

• Vickie Austin is a business and career coach, professional speaker and author of Circles of Gold: Honoring Your Network for Business and Career Success. She hosts "Biz Books Review" the third Tuesday of every month at the Wheaton Public Library. You can visit her website at and connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter (@Vickie_Austin).