In August of 2019, I read “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. While this may not seem like a big deal, for me it was a big win, considering it was the first book I had read in many years. At the time, I had no idea that this experience would begin the personal and professional development journey that continues to shape and inspire my work today.
Last week as I was working on refining some ideas, I got stuck and felt I had hit a dead end. Taking a wide left turn from where I was, I decided to revisit the science behind the programs and routines that I have been writing. This prompted me to pick up “The Talent Code” again, knowing that looking at the science behind building myelin would be a great place to start.
It didn’t take long to recall how powerful the content from this book is. The idea that talent is grown and not “gifted” to a select few should interest everyone. In future blog posts I will dive into the science of developing skills , but for now, I want to focus on a section of the book that really caught my attention this time around. This really gets at the big picture of what should matter to us in the long term.
Florence, Italy in the 15th century
In his research seeking out “talent hot beds”, Coyle came across a paper by David Banks, a statistician at Carnegie Mellon University, titled “The Problem of Excess Genius”. It aimed to ask, “Why are some periods of time more productive than ever?” His search led him to the period of 1440 to 1490 in Florence, Italy.
This period was defined by artists such as: da Vinci, Verrocchio, Donatello, Ghiberti, Michelangelo, and Baldovinetti, to name a few. Coyle goes on to name a few of the reasons this period was able to generate so many incredible artists. Training these artists from very young ages, and putting them through intense, live-in apprenticeship posts were among them. And while there was a certain competitive spirit, they also shared information and ideas freely.
The Architects Of Their Own Talent
At the end of the discussion, Coyle makes a note that although we tend to think that a concentration of artists (or any highly skilled people) like this would come from similar backgrounds, it’s surprisingly not true in this case. He writes:
“They came from rich and poor families alike; they had different personalities, different teachers, different motivations. But they had one thing in common: they all spent thousands of hours inside a deep-practice hothouse…”
It goes on from there to show how their success came from building myelin slowly over time. But what struck me as the most important sentence from the entire section was the very last one:
“They each took part in the greatest work of art anyone can construct: the architecture of their own talent.”
What About Us?
I haven’t stopped thinking about that sentence since I read it a week ago. Were they aware they were building their talent like that? Or was it simply how they went about their business in the 1400s? What can we learn from this?
I’ve been obsessed with developing a method of thinking that allows us to put my long term learning at the forefront of my work on the instrument. I recognize I’ve achieved a decent amount of success in the music field, but I don’t really care about “the next thing” in terms of winning another orchestra job. These days, all I care about is, “What kind of musician do I want to be in 20 years, and what steps can I take today to start walking down that road?”
What about you? Is practicing for “the next thing” serving your long term goals? Can you imagine the player you want to be in 20 years? So much of our thinking is results based: working to achieve a singular goal. But if we look at the artists we talked about earlier, it seems like the process of continual improvement was guiding their work.
I would highly encourage everyone reading this to stop and think about their life 20 years from now. There’s no need to be dogmatic about it, but I guarantee there are some actions you can take now to invest in the process of learning how to make that thought a reality.
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