The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, is a four star book that deserves an extra star if you track the hidden sub-text. Coyle covers a crucial topic on brain learning entirely from the perspective of developing extreme talent.  For example, developing skills such as becoming an extremely talented soccer player, violinist, vocalist, golfer, and so on.  He indicates that recent studies show two very interesting properties related to myelin.

The first myelin property of interest: Myelin grows around nerves in response to usage and activation, but most quickly in response to learning.  Coyle refers to the ideal learning process as deep practice, giving many examples from different types of activities he reviewed.  The better tuned and deeper the learning process, the faster the myelin will grow, up to more than 10x faster.

The second myelin property of interest: Myelinated nerves are over 100 times faster than lightly myelinated nerves.  In other words, the brain functions at super-speed for highly learned tasks.  When this is combined with the increased diversity of connections that form after practice, the highly practiced nerve systems are several thousand times more effective.

This full-myelination and connection density, and the extreme skills it implies, typically occurs after roughly 10,000 or more hours of practice.  As periods of rapid learning, myelination occur, deep practice in an optimal zone for the type of skill, this time can potentially be reduced dramatically.

As the concepts of deep practice are refined, and training programs adapt to incorporate what has been learned at the neurological level, we could see dramatic reductions in the learning curve and even more extreme skill levels.

Coyle discusses this general myelination, in lay terms, along with good sections on the optimal learning environment and optimal coaching styles.  These sections are nicely done as well, but weren’t quite as interesting to me.

The real gem in this book may be an alternative application domain.

Consider human personality.  We have more practice being ourselves than anything else.  If practice wires the brain as Coyle suggests, our personality becomes automatic and unconscious essentially due to our brain’s design.  Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate and even reverse the undesired effects.  — Dan

As our layers of personality, motivation, and adaptation are used in the world, the brain constantly wires itself, and myelinates the nerves involved, to make us super-efficient at being ourselves.  The high speed pathways bypass our slower choice and conscious awareness constructs, leaving us to operate on autopilot with the course set by our prior actions.

We are getting beyond the scope of Coyle’s excellent book at this point.  For more on this, see a related post on the learned self and myelination.