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Talent…Is It Born or Grown?

January 4, 2011
at 1:20 pm PST

Happy New Year! Hope all of you had an awesome time ringing in the new year. Now it’s back to business.

So, here’s a question for you: If you looked at 100 of the world’s best performers-- from athletes to salespeople to doctors – what one thing do they have in common?

They make the most money? They have the most cars? No, no… They have all practiced their craft for 10,000 hours (or longer). That’s it!

We’re continuing our coverage from Cisco’s Partner Velocity event held last month in Barcelona. Today’s topic: how to achieve greatness (appropriate given that we’re all making New Year’s resolutions right now) is from Daniel Coyle’s session.

Coyle is contributing editor to Outside Magazine and New York Times best-selling author of The Talent Code.

Watch my interview with him to find out what he said:

What else did he say about honing your own talent?
In his research, Coyle wanted to find out whether talent is something we’re born with or something we can develop during practice. His findings show that top performers weren’t necessarily born with the skills needed for their feats of greatness. While some good hand-eye coordination can’t hurt, what these top performers shared is that they spent 10,000 hours intensely practicing their crafts. But there’s a catch…they had to practice effectively.

What exactly is effective practice?

This means considerably slowing down, actually making mistakes, and then stopping to figure out where you went wrong. By slowing down enough to clearly reveal mistakes, these top performers are actually making more mistakes. But by slowing down, they are able to fix the problem(s) and try again, thereby learning to do something better and improving.

This is accomplished, for example,when  a musician plays a song very slowly so the tune is almost unrecognizable, thereby revealing where the mistake lies.

The theory of “no pain, no gain” definitely holds true when it comes to effective practice. Coyle says that to get to the edge of your ability, your brain needs to reach. This means getting into a zone where you are pushed into an uncomfortable place, where you almost can’t stand it, then pushing past that.

That’s how you become better and, hopefully, more talented. This doesn’t just apply to athletes, doctors, and musicians. This applies in the business world as well. Being the best means practicing, making mistakes, and learning — no matter what your field.

It’s Electrical!

Not only are the best performers electrical to watch, but the electricity moving through wires of their brains have also been trained. Because muscles don’t have memory, all performers must rely on the memories stored in the brain’s wiring.

When we make a mistake, we are essentially building a new connection in the brain, says Coyle. The myelin sheath is the layer around neurons in the brain.  And the more myelin, Coyle says, the more a behavior stays with us. This applies to both good and bad habits.

Coyle’s two main takeaways:

1)   Mistakes are not bad, they are not what they seem. Recognize your mistakes as neural.

2)   We have more potential than we might think.

Want to learn more? Head over to the Cisco Partner Velocity site where Daniel Coyle’s keynote, as well as other sessions, are available in full.

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2 Comments.


  1. Talent is born…. once you discover you have that talent you must work to prefect it…any person can sing… only those with the natural talent can make it sound great…

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  2. Practice and hard work can improve one’s talent, and make that person truly extraordinary.

       0 likes