1-on-1: How Talent Is Made and Not Born

Daniel Cole explains how talent develops
June 21, 2011

Daniel Coyle is the author of The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. He spent more than a year traveling and studying areas of the world that produce extraordinary talents, like cellist Yo-Yo Ma and baseball great Manny Ramirez. He learned through his research in these talent hotbeds that supreme talent isn’t born; it’s made. Coyle, a contributing editor for Outside magazine and author of the New York Times best-selling Lance Armstrong’s War, discussed his findings with SUCCESS.

SUCCESS: In the SUCCESS magazine article, you talked about how talent is really developed from deep practice and not natural talent. How do people discover their talents?

Daniel Coyle: It is as mysterious as love in our lives. Why does love happen? Why do you fall in love with something and become a writer, a salesmen or a ballerina? What the science tells us is that it happens all at once. It’s almost like an immune response, and once it happens, it happens all at once and unlocks a tsunami of psychological energy.

S: Do people have a natural inclination toward certain gifts?

DC: I think that exists. Take Yo-Yo Ma as an example. He has certain inclinations that appear to be genetic. But what the science shows us is that what is undervalued is the love. Why are they really doing it? Why is that kid banging on the piano? Love is the motivation system being activated when a 2-year-old kid decides he’s going to become a piano player. The remarkable thing isn’t how fast he can move his fingers; it’s that he thinks about it all the time.

S: Your research shows that people often discover talents when they have a model—someone in their environment they want to be like.

DC: Where do children get the idea that they want to be musicians when they are just 7 or 8 years old? Usually there is a model in their environment. When you see these talent hotbeds bloom, they tend to bloom in the following way: You will see one great performer come out of somewhere, and then, a few years later, there will be two, and six and then 10 and 40. That’s the algorithm. The one is the North Star, the one who creates the chemistry, the power and the growth of neuro broadband. You see the one and then the dozen. You have younger people looking at someone and saying, “That’s who I want to be.” What ignites the progress is a vision of their ideal future selves.

S: You talk about condensed practice in your book as a means to increase skills and talents faster. How does that work?

DC: In soccer, for instance, Brazilians have found a beautiful way to increase skills. It’s a very compressed game called futebol de salao, which basically means soccer in the room. They get 600 percent more touches of the ball. They have compressed passing lanes. They are basically firing, failing and fixing a lot more than American kids are. It is almost sped up. If you look at it from a neuro perspective, it explains the gap in world soccer as plain as can be.

You see these kinds of compressions in other ways too. Toyota is a good example. When they train people to go on assembly lines, they do it with toys. Instead of being all spread out on an assembly line, they are sitting around a conference table next to each other and making their assembly lines move with these little toys. They are doing the same thing the Brazilians are doing neurologically. They have figured out how to compress the action and then practice in a really compressed way.

For more insights from Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, visit thetalentcode.com.

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