I started to read Daniel Coyle's latest book: The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for improving your skills on the commute to work this morning, and it's fascinating.
I really enjoyed Coyle's previous book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. The book was all about answering the question; "how do people get great at something?".
For the book, Coyle looked at the latest research, spent a lot of time talking to the 'father of expertise' K. Anders Ericsson, but also visited what he called 'talent hotbeds'. These are places where great talent has been produced out of proportion to their size and perceived stature; for example, a Russian tennis club, a music school in Dallas, a soccer field in Brazil, and many others.
It is a fascinating read and brings out, yet again, the importance of deliberate practice, a concept you may have seen us mention on many occasions in this blog. From cab drivers in London doing the knowledge, to Benjamin Frankiln improving the way he wrote, to the Jamacian bob sleigh team, immortalised in the film 'Cool Runnings'. They all used elements of deliberate practice in building skill and improving performance.
A key element of deliberate practice is the presence of some kind of coach, teacher or mentor to help provide guidance and give feedback on performance. We all know the value of a great coach, but what is the right kind of person to help us really achieve something great?
From Coyle's research he says you should seek out someone who:
- Doesn't remind you of a courteous waiter - you don't want someone that smiles a lot and says things like; "Don't worry, no problem, we will take care of that later".
- Scares you a little - look for someone who watches you closely and is honest, sometimes unnervingly so
- Gives short, clear directions - most great teachers/coaches/mentors do not give long winded speeches. Instead, they give short, clear directions of what they want.
- Loves teaching fundamentals - they start from a focus on the basics, the foundations, the fundamentals and build from there. And they will always go back to these to ensure they are being done, and done right.
- Is older (all other things being equal) - teaching is like any other talent: it takes time to grow. Great teachers are first and foremost learners, who improve their skills with each passing year