The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, by Daniel Coyle. New York: Bantam Books, 2012. 160 pp. $18 (hardcover).


A few years ago, on an assignment for a magazine, Daniel Coyle started visiting what he calls talent hotbeds, or “tiny places that produce large numbers of world-class performers in sports, art, music, business, math, and other disciplines” (p. xiii).

Coyle eventually published much of this research in The Talent Code, a book showing the characteristics of these places that account for the abundance of talent that flows from them, and explaining why the idea that talent is innate rather than developed is mistaken. After its publication, Coyle continued discussing the subject with various master teachers, and he compiled a large collection of pink Post-its on which he noted tips or strategies that were producing results. In his latest book, The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, Coyle shares this collection with readers.

The book is organized into three categories. One pertains to getting started, and includes “ideas for igniting motivation and creating a blueprint for the skills you want to build” (p. xviii). Another focuses on improving skills, and includes “methods and techniques for making the most progress in the least time” (p. xviii). The last is about sustaining progress, and includes “strategies for overcoming plateaus, keeping motivational fires lit, and building habits for long-term success” (p. xviii).

The tips are often accompanied by a story of someone employing or exemplifying it in practice. Take tip #5, “Be willing to be stupid”:

Teammates of the hockey star Wayne Gretzky would occasionally witness a strange sight: Gretzky falling while he skated through solitary drills on ice. While the spectacle of the planet’s greatest hockey player toppling over like a grade-schooler might seem surprising, it actually makes perfect sense. As skilled as he was, Gretzky was determined to improve, to push the boundaries of the possible. The only way that happens is to build new connections in the brain—which means reaching, failing, and, yes, looking stupid.

Feeling stupid is no fun. But being willing to be stupid—in other words, being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes—is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and forms new connections. When it comes to developing talent, remember, mistakes are not really mistakes—they are the guideposts you use to get better. (pp. 13–14) . . .

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