Book review: The Talent Code

photo of author Daniel Coyle and his book "The Talent Code"

It’s rather maddening in hindsight, all that time and longing wasted on wishing for smarts I didn’t have but thought I needed to achieve what I wanted.

If only I’d applied more of that time and energy to the actual building blocks of greatness: to deep practice, with its excruciating but completely engaging try-fail/try-fail/try-fail/(etc.)/try-succeed/learn, lather-rinse-repeat chain of events; to finding the source of ignition, the tiny thread I could worry down to the source of my deepest and most fulfilling passion; to seeking out the coaches who could, thanks to the masterful acquisition of skill and knowledge themselves, coax out the best in me.

Oh, wait, I did. I do.

The most of many wonderful things about The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle’s fantastic look into what makes greatness is the triumphant matter-of-fact-ness with which Coyle lays out, over and over again, his two central theses:

First, that the joy is truly in the journey, as there is no destination; the greatest of the greats is never “there” yet, because as long as one is alive and driven by passion, there is a way to learn/tweak/grow. The trials and failures become both more and less significant, because they’re happening at a master level, but there’s always always always something left to master. Such good news. Can you imagine how eye-stabbingly boring it would all be otherwise?

Second, that you can start anywhere, with anything, so long as the thing lights your fire and you put in your time properly. The “deep practice” Coyle talks about, the actual quality of work and attention applied to those now-famous 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell pointed to a bit ago in Outliers, helps build myelin, that stuff that coats the wires all your crazy neural impulses fly around through. More myelin, faster-traveling impulses, better skill, more mastery. (And more enjoyment, which brings us back to Thesis #1.)

There is a little bit of luck to greatness, at least, there is in an uninformed world where we don’t know how to make “magic” happen. In quotes because of course, it’s not magic, it’s science and awareness and commitment (a ton of commitment) and love (so much love). But that is what The Talent Code is for: to get the word out there, to spread that love. It’s a map studded with neon signs pointing the way to the possible, a signal shot up in the sky, saying, “Look here! Do these things deliberately, create these spaces where young people can see what is possible, and magic can happen! You can make star athletes and scientists and cellists and poets! You can coax the genius out of anyone, yourself included!”

The book is filled with stories of talent “hotbeds” and genius coaches and methodologies for deep practice that both illuminate and inspire. You will pick it up and not be able to put it down. You will start communicating with people from a place of deeper curiosity.

You will want to tell everyone you know about it, immediately, and urge them to get it, to read it, to share it with everyone they know.

And then, if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to go practice whatever it is you do that really, truly lights your fire…


Images (left to right): Photo of Daniel Coyle © Scott Dickerson; © 2010 Bantam Books; Design: The DesignWorks Group.

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.


  1. I love your book reviews. Your first two paragraphs here gave ME joy in YOUR journey. Well done. (Which is not to say your other paragraphs weren’t nice, also.)

    I will definitely seek out The Talent Code because, if nothing else, Daniel Coyle has dreamy blue eyes.

    Thanks for this.

    1. He does have dreamy baby-blues, now you mention it!

      Thanks for the kind words. I do wonder sometimes if my reviews are a little batty. And then I think, “Batty for whom?” I mean, that’s why one has a blog, right? To be as batty as you wanna be?

  2. Hi Colleen:

    I read this book last year and loved it…it was one of my favorite books of the year. While Outliers does give us some great food for thought in terms of success (I really enjoyed that book too), I loved how the Talent Code gives individuals more control of their talents. This book deeply underscores what I’ve always believed…if you want it bad enough and practice hard enough, you can do it. I agree with you that everyone should get this book and spread the word.

    1. Agreed! The research on this makes me wish I was a kid now, with all those super-myelin-building years in front of me. (And I almost never wish I was born after 1965; ugh, what a world these poor kids are inheriting from us.)

      Still, I’m grateful to have this book as something to help me move forward in a mentoring capacity with some kind of optimism, as well as happy to hear I still have some good years left in me. Piano! Guitar! You are mine, I say!

  3. This must have been one of the most hopeful books I’ve read in a long time. Making my own leaps in deep practice meant I could see the links between myelin and traumatic brain injury and my patients. More than once I’ve had people remark to me, “That must just be how your brain is wired.”

  4. Hi

    The thing I liked about the Talent Code was it gave me a way of recognising that Clint-Eastwood-squint feeling which is so familiar, and which I crave, truth-be-told.

    I’m not great at finishing books like this, at least not in the same week I started, but he was great at just-a-little-bit-more…

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