Book 17 of 52: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle


I once got into an argument with a friend of mine about the talent of David Beckham, the world famous soccer player from the UK. My friend believed that Beckham was born with the talent to play football. I, on the other hand, believed he had grown his talent by practicing longer and harder than his peers. If Daniel Coyle would have joined the argument he would have sided with me, after all emblazoned on the front cover of his book, The Talent Code, are these words:

Greatness isn’t born. It is Grown

The book centres around a microscopic substance called Myelin. These three points are taken directly from Coyle’s book.

1. Every human movement, thought or feeling is a precisely timed electrical signal traveling through a chain of neurons – a circuit of nerve fibres.

2. Myelin in the insulation that wraps these nerve fibres and increases signal strength, speed and accuracy.

3. The more we fire a particular circuit; the more myelin optimises that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.

When good athletes train they send precise impulses along wires that give the signal to myelinate that wire. By continued repetition their wires receive more insulation than the rest of us and this is why they can run faster, jump higher and throw more precisely than everyone else. In nutshell: myelin is grown through practice and the more myelin you have wrapped around your circuits the more skilled you become. You control your own destiny.

We all have the ability myelinate our circuitry. It is more plentiful in our youth but we can continue to learn new skills until the day that we die. But myelin will not work on its own. The person needs to participate in what Coyle calls deep practice. When I think of deep practice I picture David Beckham as a child, kicking footballs into an empty net as his Mum screams at him for the hundredth time to come indoors and eat. I think of the Toyota production line and how thousands of continuous little improvements all contribute to make the best possible automobile, as quickly and as effortlessly as possible (as described in The Machine That Changed The World). Deep practice is all about doing, making mistakes, making adjustments, doing, making mistakes, making adjustments, doing…well you get the picture.

In addition to the deep practice you need to be fortunate enough to find the right mentors. The blessed coaches of the world who are born with the innate ability to recognise and nurture talent. These mentors are everywhere so don’t cross your fingers and hope they will come! Go out there and grab them for yourself, something I have written about in my mentoring series.

What is it that you want to do? What is holding you back? Now be sensible about this. Don’t plan to win the Olympic Gold medal in the 100 metres if you are 37-years of age. But most things can be managed with at least 10,000 hours or ten years of deep practice. Now that may seem like a long time but ten years ago was only yesterday – wasn’t it?

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  1. Lee,
    I think this is the first time I’ve disagreed with you, while not entirely. Obviously, had Shakespeare not taken up pen and paper, his greatness would not be known today but there are people who yearn to write who will never write well no matter how much they try. We all have our talents and our purpose; I think we have to practice the ones we were given. Interesting subject.

    • Lee Davy says:

      Hi Linnea,

      Disagreement is fine – and encouraged 🙂

      The writing subject is a good one. The friend I argued with regarding the David Beckham debate asked me, “how can you write as good as you do if it was not talent?”

      The reason I am able to write is because of Deep Practice. Quite simply I have a lot of myelin that has built up in this area over the years. At first it started with school and as much as I hated school one subject I always enjoyed was English. I liked writing stories because my head was always filled with them. I talk a lot and always like to be the centre of attention. I have created stories all of my life so I can continue to play out this role and keep people entertained. All of this talking and creating stories is building my myelin. I used to watch an incredible amount of television and now I watch almost every movie there is. Watching these movies and TV builds myelin. Music has been very important to me throughout the years. I loved to read the lyrics and sing them to myself. When I was 21 I started to write poems and songs and I still have them. This was building myelin. Then when I used to fall in love I didn’t think I was as good looking as the other boys. In order to compete I tried to touch their hearts. I wrote love letters and stories to them. The more I did this the more myelin I built. Then there are books. I am a voracious reader and have been all of my life. Continually reading literature from some of the worlds greatest writers is building myelin. When I work at a poker tournament for a week I write over ten-thousand words per day – myelin.

      I don’t think I was born with a talent to write. I think that I have trained myself both consciously and sub-consciously to be a writer. My English teacher hit the nail on the head when I was younger. I was such a disruptive influence in school that she used to cry herself to sleep at night (something I later apologised for when I was an adult). In my final year of English she refused to teach me and so I had to teach myself. One thing I could not teach myself was for the grade of English Oral – she had to give me that grade. She gave me the top grade possible and when I asked why she said this to me, “All you ever do is talk. You never shut up. I might not like the things that come out of your mouth, but it is often articulate and has a point. Man you never shut up.” That was myelin as well!


    • Lee Davy says:


      One more thing on the Shakespearean point. The book covers Michaelangelo, the Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor. Many people will point to this mans genius but the book refers to Michaelangelo’s immersion in his love from a very, very young age. It is is the same for Tiger Woods, David Beckham and who knows maybe Shakespeare himself.


  2. Lee, I agree that we have to work at our talent to make it good. And I don’t believe I was born with a talent to write; otherwise I would have been doing it when I was a child. I started writing when I was in my forties. And hopefully all the writing I have done since then has made an improvement.

    I think perhaps we are born with certain abilities which would have a tendency to lead us into those areas we can develop into a talent, abilities which others may not be born with. Some children begin creatively using their hands early in life and they end up being mechanics, electricians, plumbers, tailors, etc. Others of us have no ability in those areas at all, so gravitate to other more academic areas–teaching, bookkeeping, sales, etc. Then there are those born with more creativity that eventually turns them into writers, artists, musicians, etc. But any of these skills must be used in order to improve them; otherwise we would all be poor to mediocre at what we do.

    • Lee Davy says:

      Hi Diane,

      You make some excellent points. It is a hugely complicated topic with a lot of different points. The main point I wanted to make through reading the book and sharing it, was you can achieve whatever you choose to if you work hard enough.


      • I believe that is true in most cases though I do think some people desire what is not theirs to achieve. I think it is because they look at someone else and think their gift looks cool and so they chase it instead of their own special gifting and then what they might have achieved doesn’t happen unless they discover their mistake soon enough. I have always wanted to be able to sing, and though I do have a mediocre singing voice which could be improved with lessons, I could never be a great singer. That is the kind of thing I think you have to be born with, at least the potential for it.

  3. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. 🙂 M.A.

  4. I’m not sure where my talents came from, but I seem to be a Jack of all Trades, which has been both a hindrance and an asset throughout my life. I think my mom had a lot to do with it since she had taught us to read by the time we were two. I’m not quite sure why we wait until children are six or so before schooling them.

    • Lee Davy says:


      I think your talents come from within yourself and is dragged out of you by inspirational forces such as teachers, friends or parents. I understand the Jack of All Trades Master of None mentality because I suffered from it myself. I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with it, but it will slow us down whereas somebody focussing on one particular talent will get there quicker.


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