The Little Book of Talent Review

by Daniel Coyle
$18.00; 160 pages

This is indeed a little book. It contains 52 brief techniques for improving skills, based on Daniel Coyle's research into human excellence, and how we get there. What you will not find here is a lengthy treatise expounding Coyle's theory of greatness, with footnotes. That would be The Talent Code. This book is an extended commercial for Coyle's other book, which was apparently effective, because I was curious enough to buy a copy after reading The Little Book of Talent.

The tips you find in this book seem pretty simple. I think that is a feature not a bug. Most excellent coaching seems really simple after the fact. The hard part is doing the right thing at the right time that will help the student push harder than they ever thought they could. With a new batch of tricks, that should help a coach find that right thing faster, and more often. The same idea could easy be expanded to one's self, along the lines of Getting Things Done or the 4-Hour Workweek. Try to find ways to boost yourself just a little bit everyday, and aim for a cumulative effect to achieve a bigger payoff.

The tips are pretty interesting, and I find them intuitively accurate. They match up with my own experience. What I am less impressed with is Coyle's theoretical framework. The 10,000 hour rule serves nicely as a synecdoche of Coyle's theory:

Rule of Ten Thousand Hours (n): The scientific finding that all world-class experts in every field have spent a minimum of ten thousand hours intensively practicing their craft. While this number is sometimes misinterpreted as a magical threshold, in reality it functions as a rule of thumb underlining a larger truth: Greatness is not born, but grown through deep practice, no matter who you are.

Coyle has a lot of interesting research, but the one thing he can't conquer is the popular impression that some people are born more talented than others. That is because this popular belief is true. The semantic flaw in the popular belief is that we are not born with ready made skills; we have to learn them. Thus is entirely correct to say that all geniuses must perfect their skills through intensive practice. What is missing is the genius had a greater capacity for that talent than you when he started, and if you both went through an identical training regimen, the difference would rapidly become obvious.

The other important thing Coyle has going for him is very few of us are so skilled in anything that we are bumping up against our capacity limits. You can almost always get better at whatever it is you are doing with more effective techniques. The talented people will just learn faster, and learn more than the rest of us. This grates against the American national character, however, so Coyle shouldn't have any trouble finding a willing audience.

My other book reviews