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?