Spot-Forging the Blade
I love to knit! A small project fits nicely into my bag and provides my hands with something to do during short intervals of time. As an experienced knitter, I recognize that patterns require scaffolding in the form of multiple experiences with less challenging work. A desire to avoid errors precludes knitters from engaging with interesting fibers and patterns. While errors are not always visible to others, they are quite apparent to me. The repetition of a pattern, coupled with the feel of the garment, alert me to a mistake. To unravel an hour of work in order to locate one error is not always a display of my neurosis, but rather a desire to learn a difficult pattern. It is no longer an instance to admonish myself to practice harder. Because of reading Coyle’s work, I now consider the reworking of a mistake as an invitation to engage in deeper practice (Coyle 17), practice that leads me to “The Sweet Spot.”
Practice makes perfect,: an underlying thread through The Talent Code, is not a novel concept. Daniel Coyle invites readers to consider practice with a new lens, one that suspends conventional ideas about the cultivation of talent. “The Sweet Spot,” the introductory chapter of the book, unfolds as Coyle leads readers in a recount of his adventure to hot beds of talent. In his quest to understand how talent develops, he explores areas described as “tiny places that produce Everest-sized amounts of talent” (Coyle 11).
A whirlwind journey moves from tennis courts in Moscow, to soccer fields in San Paolo, Brazil, to a music academy in the Adirondack Mountains. He concludes with a visit to the islands in the Caribbean that produce an abundance of talented baseball players. These concentrations of talent reveal the paradox that deep practice builds when one operates on the edge of ability (Coyle 18). He asks readers to abort traditional assumptions, regarding the relationship between genes and environmental factors, as the key contributor to talent (14).
Coyle presents readers with scenarios to consider. Two individuals, male and female, from geographically diverse backgrounds, at the end of childhood and the conclusion of young adulthood, engaged in athletic and music fields demonstrate the advantages of deep practice. He contends that when we apply the concepts of willpower, focus and concentration (Coyle 13) we do not capture the “ice climbing particularity of the event” (14).
He acknowledges the human tendency to avoid errors, yet suggests that to revisit errors will make you smarter (Coyle 18). When an individual is forced to work through an error, examine and correct it, deep learning transpires. An exercise, created byto sharpen memory skills, engages readers with an example of “deep practice.” Participants read and recall a set of word pairings, one with complete sets of words and one with letters that are missing (16). Bjork, the chair of the psychology department at UCLA suggests that “We think of effortless performance as desirable, but it’s a really terrible way to learn” (18).
The metaphor of memory as a tape recorder of our experiences is erroneous. If we consider, Bjork continues, our brain to be a living organism then we recognize the infinitesimal size and capability of it (Coyle 19). He suggests that in selecting a goal directly outside of our capabilities, that we have the scaffolding in place that is necessary to encounter and overcome the struggle. This optimal gap between what one knows and what one is trying to accomplish is “The Sweet Spot.” Intuition tells us that practice is to talent what the whetstone is to a blade. Coyle asks us to consider the possibility that the solid blade is one’s natural ability. Could deep practice be the way to sharpen the blade itself? (19)
Coyle’s invitation to explore the cultivation of talent is warm and congenial. He writes for those intrigued by popular culture and psychology. As an introduction to the development of talent, it is void of the language and conventions of peer-reviewed writing. Although he presents specific questions in the introduction of the book, (Coyle 1) he fails to reveal the genesis of this exploration to readers in “The Sweet Spot.” I am left wondering what events propelled this initial journey to discover talent. Coyle seeks to establish credibility through through a well-known psychologist. It concludes abruptly with a statement regarding the expansion of Clifford’s Brazilian Soccer Schools. Anecdotes meant to captivate me do not engage me with the depth of his research, which I assume unfolds in the proceeding chapters. I am left contemplating why he does not invite me to consider what follows as he explores The Talent Code.
Coyle, Daniel.New York:
Bantam Books, 2009. Print.