The Little Book of Talent is a manual for building a faster brain and a better you. It is an easy-to-use handbook of scientifically proven, field-tested methods to improve skills—your skills, your kids’ skills, your organization’s skills—in sports, music, art, math, and business.
The product of five years of reporting from the world’s greatest talent hotbeds and interviews with successful master coaches, it distills the daunting complexity of skill development into 52 clear, concise directives. Here are three of them.
[bluebox]Developing talent is like taking a cross-country hike. You will encounter challenges; you will hit snags, plateaus, and steep paths; motivation will ebb and flow. To sustain progress, it’s necessary to be flexible one moment and stubborn the next, to deal with immediate obstacles while staying focused on the horizon: in short, to be a resourceful traveler.[/bluebox]
1) Spend fifteen minutes a day engraving the skill on your brain
What’s the best way to begin to learn a new skill? Is it by listening to a teacher’s explanation? Reading an instructional book? Just leaping in and trying it out? Many hotbeds use an approach I call the engraving method.
Basically, they watch the skill being performed, closely and with great intensity, over an over, until they build a high-definition mental blueprint.
The key to effective engraving is to create an intense connection: to watch and listen so closely that you can imagine the feeling of performing the skill.
- For physical skills, project yourself inside the performer’s body. Become aware of the movement, the rhythm; try to feel the interior shape of the moves.
- For mental skills, simulate the skill by re-creating the expert’s decision patterns.
2) Embrace repetition
Repetition has a bad reputation. We tend to think of it as dull and uninspiring. But this perception is titanically wrong. Repetition is the single most powerful lever we have to improve our skills, because it uses the built-in mechanism for making the wires of our brains faster and more accurate.
Embracing repetition means changing your mindset; instead of viewing as a chore, view it as your most powerful tool. As the martial artist and actor Bruce Lee said, ” I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.”
3) Give a new skill a minimum of eight weeks
When it comes to growing new skills, eight weeks seems to be an important threshold. It’s the length of many top-level training programs around the world, from the Navy SEAL’s physical-conditioning program to the Meadowmount School of Music program to the clinics of the Bolshoi Ballet to the mission training for the Mercury astronauts.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can be proficient in any skill in eight weeks. Rather, it underlines two more basic points:
- Constructing and honing neural circuitry takes time, no matter who you are; and
- Resilience and grit are vital tools, particularly in the early phases of learning.
Don’t make judgments too early. Keep at it, even if you don’t feel immediate improvement. Give your talent (that is, your brain) the time it needs to grow.
Complement The Little Book of Talent with What makes someone truly great at what they do? Talent is Overrated sheds some light on how even though most people spend a great deal of hours working, they perform just okay—not awesomely, not amazingly, not world-class excellent.