Is “talent” real? After reading this book, I’m not so sure. The author of this book explores talent hot beds in a variety of fields such as soccer and music to try and understand why certain places seem to produce a disproportionate amount of talent. The concept is fascinating. Through understanding what sorts of conditions produce talent, he shows us how to encourage this own development in ourselves and in our kids.
Review: A lot of what is in this book reinforces what I have already learned from other books, such as Grit and Mindset. Basically, these books all assert that our abilities can be grown and that our potential is unlimited. Rather than believing that our intelligence and talents are fixed, we should understand that these areas can be developed through effort. We see other people as “talented,” but really what we are not acknowledging is the vast amount of hard work and practice that went into developing that skill.
None of these books claim that everyone is equal. Some people do seem to naturally pick up certain skills quicker than other people. However, it is a disservice to ourselves and to our children to act like talent should be effortless. Skill requires lots and lots of practice. This book also does not discount the existence of people on either end of the spectrum (i.e. people with significant mental disabilities and prodigies). However, it does assert that these cases are probably far fewer than most people imagine.
While I’ve already learned of the growth mindset in other books, there are other aspects of this book that I found completely novel. For example, the introduction is called, “The Girl Who Did a Month’s Worth of Practice in Six Minutes.” To give away the punchline, basically what that girl did was struggle for six minutes. She focused all her effort on fixing what was wrong in her piece. According to the researchers, that girl accomplished as much in 6 minutes as she would in a month’s time by just mindlessly playing the pieces she’s already pretty good at.
Another interesting subject in this book that was new to me is the importance of myelin or white matter in our brains. Basically, myelin is the insulation surrounding nerve cells. The more we struggle and work through difficult tasks, the more insulation grows around our nerves and the better those nerves are at transmitting impulses quickly. As asserted by advocates of the growth mindset, making mistakes literally grows your brain.
The author uses this discussion of myelin to illustrate the best way to practice (what he calls “deep practice”). In this type of practice, the person acquiring a skill focuses on attending to and correcting their mistakes. He discusses applications such as how the development of flight simulators helped train pilots and prevent deaths. There is also an indoor version of soccer in Brazil called futsal which allows players to develop skills which translate to soccer quickly and efficiently. With the help of these training situations, people get to focus on the areas that are difficult, which helps them improve at a much faster rate than they otherwise would.
This book also contains sections on how talent hot beds seem to both inspire people and sustain their motivation. There is also a section on what makes a good coach. I thought it was interesting that especially at the early stages, the “talent” of the coach is not very important.
Overall, I found this book to be well worth the read. The author was engaging, the content was interesting, and the message was inspiring. Anyone can be good at anything with the right type of practice and sustained effort. Most importantly, now I also have a new tactic to help my kids work through challenging tasks. I can explain to them how their brain is actually changing as they struggle, getting faster and stronger with every mistake they make. I can also refer back to many of the famous real-life examples included in this book, such as Mozart or Michael Jordan. (Also, I bought my kid a futsal.)
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