Thursday, October 31, 2013

Daniel Coyle Interview

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We are extremely lucky today to have Daniel Coyle, best selling author, to talk to us about talent and how we really get better at things.  Dan is the author of many books, his most known being the Talent Code and the Little Book of Talent. 

In these books he breaks down what makes people successful.  The story behind their success and the often believed "natural" ability.  Short story - hard work, dedication, effort, and years of practice is what makes people successful.  We often see the end-product and think WOW they were born to do that, but we don't appreciate the process, the progressions, the sacrifice, the set-backs, and the hours upon hours of practice.

I think believing that genetics are the key determinate in how well you perform in any given field is a cop-out.  It's taking the easy way out for reasoning why someone may be better than you.  Ask anyone who is successful why they are successful and a common response will be work.  When others sleeping, they were working; when others were partying, they were working; when others were watching TV, they were working.  All that extra time starts to add up over the years, and this is what Dan has brought to the forefront. 

We'll let Dan take it from here, so enjoy the wise words from this great researcher and writer!



1. First off thank-you so much for doing this Daniel.  I know you're a very busy guy, so thanks for taking the time to do this.  With the popularity of your books, The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, could you give an overview of what contributes to talent and why these contributions can be more important than ones genes.

It's truly my pleasure, Michael -- thank you for having me! 

The overview is pretty simple, and it consists of seven words: Your genes matter less than you think
Historically, we've given a lot of influence to the idea that talented people possess some special twist of DNA that the rest of us lack. But science is showing us that this is largely a mistake. Science is showing us that talents -- especially when it comes to cognitively demanding skills -- aren't doled out at birth. They are grown in the brain through intensive practice. The only exception to this is raw athletic skills. So if you want to be a high jumper or a marathon runner, you definitely have to pick the right parents. But for most everything else, it's less about who you are, and more about what you do. Specifically, how you are motivated, coached, and above all, how effectively you practice. 

2. The 10,000 hour rule of mastery has gained a lot of recognition over the years.  For athletic or sport performance, do you feel these hours have to be specific (example basketball) - or do broad, general skills and movement/motor learning such as playing other sports also help contribute towards the 10,000 hours?  

Great question, because one of the most common reactions to the 10,000-hour rule is the strong desire to practice narrowly -- for tennis players to focus ferociously on tennis, for instance, or chess players on chess. This instinct makes sense, but it's often the wrong thing to do. The reason is that, like any structure, skills are built on other skills. A broad base -- whether it's chess or tennis or anything else -- has been shown to lead to better performance. Think of Federer (soccer player until 13); Kobe Bryant (same), Steve Nash (same). They succeeded in part because the skills of one sport (recognizing patterns, anticipation, body control) gave them an advantage over players who just trained narrowly in one sport. 

3. What steps do you recommend to learning skills, techniques, movements?
First of all, stare. Find a way to watch someone who's good -- watch them closely, and over and over, until you can feel yourself making the movement. 

Then break it down into chunks. Small pieces that you learn over and over, and combine into bigger chunks. 

All high-quality practice consists of three moves: you reach for a target. Then you evaluate the distance between your reach and the target -- what worked? What didn't? Then you reach again. Repeat. 

4. What role does the brain play in skill acquisition?
It's gigantic. We talk of "muscle memory" but the truth is that your muscles don't have any memory. They're just doing what the brain tells them to do. So whenever you see an act of great coordination -- whether it's Jordan driving to the hoop or Tiger Woods hitting a perfect shot -- what your'e really seeing is beautiful brains. Circuits that have been built, refined, and made accurate and fast through deep practice.

5. What are some traits great coaches have in common?
A couple things come to mind. First, they're able to form strong connections very quickly. They connect to the heart. Second, they don't give long inspiring speeches -- rather, they deliver vivid short bites of information in a memorable way. Third, they spend lots of time designing the practice space, and planning. 

6. Tell us the importance of cues and cueing and how to make cueing more effective?
The most important cue a person can get is when they see a vision of their future self. When they meet someone that they don't just admire and respect, but someone that they want to become. That causes a cascade of motivation energy that some scientists have actually measured. We're social animals, and we're driven by our sense of identity. When we see a vision of our future selves, our brains light up and we have a lot of energy that we can use to (you guessed it!) practice. 

7. You've talked about having your own scoreboard, can you explain this a little further?
This comes from addressing a common problem in youth sports and in business. The problem is that the scoreboard we use doesn't reflect the qualities we want to grow -- and the solution is to create your own scoreboard. For example, a soccer coach who wants to improve passing should track the number of successful passes each game, and post it -- so that that number becomes the metric the team cares about. 

8. What traits/qualities should parents and coaches strive to promote and instil in children?

Grit. Resilience. Resourcefulness. Love of learning. Which happens to be precisely the same traits they should promote in themselves. Because learning is not like waving some magical wand. It's more like a cross-country hike. It takes time, lots of energy, stubbornness, flexibility, and above all togetherness. 


Thanks again Dan!  Some great information was dished out there and for even more in-depth analysis of these topics and more be sure to check out Dan's books below.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed and they will change the way your live your life and work towards your goals.
 
     The Talent Code
     The Little Book of Talent
     Lance Armstrong's War
     Hardball

Also check out Dan's awesome website http://thetalentcode.com/

   

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