Coyle, Daniel. "The Sweet Spot." The Talent Code. Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. New York: Bantam, 2009. 11-29.
Have you ever wanted to be really good at something? Develop a skill and be able to do it very well? For example, master a technique in a sport, develop painting methods to produce an outstanding piece of art, perform flawlessly with a musical instrument, or, generally speaking, execute any pursuit and achieve perfect precision? I think we have all had moments when we have wished we were better at something.
At some point in your life, you may have heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect”. Is this true? Daniel Coyle thinks so, in fact he has taken the idea one step further. Coyle believes in “the concept of deep practice” (p.16). Deep practice is the central dogma of the “The Sweet Spot”, chapter one of Coyle’s book, The Talent Code. Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Coyle defines deep practice as a 4 step process: deep concentration, failure, repetition, and finally mastery (p.17). “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you are forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them” (p.18).
Coyle tells about his journey when he “began visiting tiny places that produce Everestsize amounts of talent” (p. 11) also referred to as “chicken wire Harvards” (p. 11). He wanted to learn how “places so small and humble” (p. 11) produced people who were “titanically accomplished” (p. 11). It was on this journey that he discovered deep practice and felt that was the key to all of the success that he saw.
Two of the people he encountered on his journey were, Brunio, a soccer player from São Paolo, Brazil, and Jennie, a singer from Dallas, Texas. In both cases, they were utilizing deep practice to learn. Brunio wanted to learn how to do the “elastico” maneuver in soccer. Jennie was trying to perfect the big finale of a song. Coyle described their attempts to both move with the soccer ball and sing a perfect measure. They would fail, stop, think, and then do it again more slowly. For Brunio, after repeating, something clicked and he started “nailing the move” (p.13). For Jennie, “the pieces snap(ped) into place” and she sang the “measure perfectly” (p. 13).
In the chapter, Coyle included an exercise for the reader to attempt to persuade you that deep practice really works and to drive the point home. On page 16, there are 2 lists of words, ‘A’ and ‘B’. The ‘A’ list is easily read with complete words. The ‘B’ list is missing a single letter from each word. Coyle challenges the reader to “take a few seconds to look” at the lists, “spend(ing) the same amount of time on each one. Now turn the page. Without looking, try to remember as many of the word pairs as you can.” (p. 16-17). Coyle informs the reader that studies have shown that people remembered more words from the ‘B’ list with the blank spaces, 3 times more in fact. When reading list ‘B’, people “stopped…stumbled ever so briefly, then figured it out” (p.17). There was a “microsecond of struggle” and that allows people to remember more (p.17).
Coyle also discusses one additional method of deep practice. He notes that when individuals physically do something themselves rather than just hearing it from someone else or reading it in a text book, it makes them more successful. Specifically he provides examples of remembering a person’s name (p. 17), donning and inflating an air plane life
jacket (p. 17), Edwin Link’s airplane training (p. 20-24), and Brazilian soccer players playing Futsal (p. 24-29). Coyle quoted an expert in the field of memory and learning, Robert Bjork, “one real encounter, even for a few seconds, is far more useful than several hundred observations” (p. 18). Bjork explains the process of failure, stopping, rethinking, and repetition is how the brain conditions itself to learning. He said, “(memory) is a living structure, a scaffold of nearly infinite size. The more we generate impulses, encountering and overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build” (p. 19). Bjork further explains "there's an optimal gap between what you know and what you're trying to do. When you find that 'sweet spot', learning takes off" (p. 19). While I feel that Coyle’s argument is an interesting one, I cannot completely agree with all of his points. One idea that I do agree with is in regards to ‘hands-on’ activity being more useful than simply reading in a text book. There are 7 basic learning styles: visual, verbal, physical, aural, social, solitary, and logical (learning-styles-online.com). Physical is the learning style that Coyle is referring to with the examples of Airplane training, Futsal, inflating a life jacket and remembering a person’s name. However, other than that argument, I do not feel that I can agree with the other ideas presented in Coyle’s book. While practicing and training will improve your performance, will you ever be perfect? Does making mistakes automatically make you better? I have not seen any entirely compelling evidence to this effect.
Coyle specifically points out two individuals, Brunio and Jennie. We are told very little about these individuals. Clearly Jennie is a good singer, as she is in a vocal studio working on the chorus of a pop song. It took her only six repetitions of singing a measure
to perfect it. I, on the other hand, cannot sing. I could sing that measure 500 times and it would still not sound good. Brunio is another matter. He is an eleven year old boy who loves soccer. He is practicing a soccer move over and over. I would expect him to improve. He is young and repeatedly doing the same move over and over. Again, if I were to practice a soccer move repeatedly, with my 2 left feet, I would still be unsuccessful in performing it.
Throughout the text, Coyle uses powerful language, such as “starts nailing the move” (p. 13), “pieces snap into place” (p. 13), “engrave it into your memory” (p.17), and “struggling in certain targeted ways” (p. 18). He writes in a very persuasive manner and engages the reader. However, the evidence that is presented is very weak. The measurement of success is not obtained in a scientific manner and the results do not strike me as logical. Deep practice may help to refine talent, but will not replace it.
References advanogy.com. Discover your learning styles. (2004) Retrieved March 29, 2013, from http://learning-styles-online.com/.