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The Talent Code

“When Gallimore and Tharp studied John Wooden in 1974, they were surprised to find that he distributed praise and criticism talentedunevenly.  What’s more, he was open about this: …Wooden would say, “The good Lord, in his infinite wisdom did not make us all the same.  Goodness gracious, if he had, this would be a boring world, don’t you think?…each one of you deserves individual treatment that is best for you.” (The Talent Code, p 184-185)

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, released in May of 2009, asserts that “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how.”  The book outlines 3 critical elements that foster talent namely deep practice which is slow, targeted, practice that depends on careful refinement of errors;  ignition or motivational fuel that can be triggered by any number of events such as pursuing a goal because someone you admire did it, or the presence of some other force that creates value or passion.  The third element is receiving master coaching and Coyle calls these coaches, “The Talent Whispers.”  Hmmmm.  Now that captured my attention!  As a long-time speech therapist, a mother, and more recently, a life coach, I was intrigued to read what qualities the author felt were present in master coaches.

The first quality was age(Coyle calls it The Matrix).  More than half the coaches that Coyle studied were in their 60’s or 70’s.  That makes sense if wisdom comes with age and one doesn’t get set in his ways. Either one can happen. Ironically, Jungian type development theory suggests we develop our dominant psychological  function up to age 7, our auxiliary or supporting function up to age 20,  the third preferred or tertiary function in our 30’s and 40’s, and the inferior, or least preferred function after that.  When we are young, much of our energy goes into developing our core and then when we get to be old salts, we can turn our attention to completing our personality.  Therefore, an older coach can draw on more perceptions and exercise greater depth of judgment.

Another desirable quality is being able to be laser sharp with coaching directions (the GPS Reflex). Try this. Do that. Layer the next skill upon the new skill.  The other day, I was reading an article in my favorite magazine, “Scientific American Mind”   titled “A New Vision For Teaching Science.” The United States ranks 25th among developed nations in math and science.  The nations that lead the way advocate revisiting topics moving from basic to sophisticated views.  Refining to create deeper understanding.

Theatrical honesty or basically “being a character” apparently contributes to the effectiveness of a master coach. Coyle mentions coaches with snow-white pompadours and black leather jackets, turban-style head wraps and  track suits. Personal style.  When I think back to the teachers I had (or my kids had) that captured attention, many of them did have a unique quality that made them more interesting: Mr. Craft throwing erasers, Mr. Henrich with his classroom that looked like a living room, or Mrs. Chang the piano teacher from China who would complain, “You have no ENNNERGY in your fingers!!!  ENERGY! ENERGY!!”

Perceptiveness rounds out the list of virtues that make up a master coach. Master coaches want to know as much as possible about each student so they can customize their communication to fit the larger patterns in a students life.  Individual differences matter and the coach watches for the qualities that make someone unique.  I use the MBTI results as a springboard for an interactive dialogue to make the connection between personality type and learning style. I wonder how I can address this client so his/her brain is primed to take in information and grow from it.  In the coaching parlance, there is the concept of resonance.  What makes an individual light pick a lockup and want to know more?  Of all of the qualities attributed to a master coach, this one seems to be the most critical.  Like cracking a lock on a safe, listening for the tumblers to click is just as important as turning the dial.

The Talent Code is worth reading particularly because of  the thought provoking nature of this topic, the pursuit of excellence.  Many of the concepts in the book are another angle on what is already intuitively known about the formula for success: practice, passion and a teacher to show you the way are key elements in harvesting talent.  What makes this book interesting is the references to the role of myelin, the fatty substance that coats nerves cells as it responds to these elements, adding speed and accuracy to movements and thoughts.  While it’s  tempting to believe that the formula of 3  key components  as identified by the author would optimize myelination ,  the holy grail for the foundation for greatness,  with the brain, it’s seldom that simple.

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