We all know the cliche, if at first you don't succeed, try-try-again. This is the heart of The Sweet Spot, a chapter title of a book, The Talent Code, written by author Daniel Coyle. Here, Coyle discusses learning and touches on the value of insight through disciplined trial and error. His writing, weaves together stories of various learning experiences across a diverse pool of individuals, reflecting on various efforts of others in skill development. In this entry into the nature versus nurture debate, Coyle uses his own experiences to clarify his point of view and challenges us to accept the concept of deep practice. (Coyle, Page 16).
His definition of the concept is quite easy to follow. Coyle says that in learning experiences where individuals are taught to push themselves to points of discomfort and failure, students learn to achieve at a very high level. He goes on to say that by teaching students to diligently tackle a problem area through trial, reason, and reflection on error, such insight learning can make all the difference in terms of nurturing talent in human beings, especially in young people.
The author shares his visits to what his friend calls, Chicken-Wire Harvards. This means that the places Coyle visited to find subjects for his query resided in some rather impoverished living and training circumstances. Over fourteen months, Coyle's journey, takes him from: a ramshackle tennis court in Moscow, to a soccer field in Sao Palo, Brazil, a vocal studio in Dallas Texas, an inner-city school in San Jose, California, a run-down music academy in New York's Adirondacks, a base-ball mad island in the Caribbean, and to a handful of other places (he further describes as) small, humble, and titanically accomplished. The most compelling of Coyle's subjects are a group of young soccer students in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Coyle, Page 11).
In Sao Paulo, soccer is a life-line in the hearts of these impoverished young souls. The game for them is a ticket to a better life. Coyle describes these children as having an almost eye of the tiger mentality when it comes to passion and diligence towards learning the finer aspects of the game. The movie, Rocky**, comes to mind rather easily in reflecting through the words of Daniel Coyle. The children of Sao Palo, do come across as hungry to achieve.
The soccer stars in Coyle's visit to Sao Paulo, demonstrate to Coyle an admirable focus of attention to detail. The strategies employed by the coaching team restricts the play area, reminiscent again of Rocky's trainer, Mick, isolating his boxer to a chicken-run to play a game of catch-the-hen to improve foot-work and stamina. Or, the wax-on wax-off strategy used in the Karate Kid.*
The deep practice process Coyle shares, is an almost mirror description of the practice of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are living in the here and now. We are focused by choice on all that we might choose to do. When we are mindful, for instance, simply washing dishes can be a step-by-step process in which we choose to perform dish-washing in the best way we can, not missing a single scrap left behind from the meal.
In mindfulness, we look for beauty in the details. In mindful practice we are tasked with gentle observance, not only of our actions, but in practicing mindfulness towards our thoughts, we can learn to choose the best thoughts to maintain our focus on. This is an incredible experience to improve our sense of consciousness in living. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29).
In this work, Coyle convinces us that deep practice holds merit. One might argue that we live in a world wrought with practices of self-judgement when it comes to skill development. It seems that success, specifically in North America, is a prize we must achieve to be valued in our society. The process of learning isn't as intrinsically valued as Coyle describes. It is the achievement itself that seems to matter most.
It wasn't fully evident, in Coyle's argument, whether or not the people he studied were judgemental of their performance. The sense was, however, that the process of deep practice was expectant of error as a means for the learner to self-diagnose her skill. Thereby, the student works systematically towards improving from any step in which she may have stumbled.
Coyle's view of deep practice, set's a tone in understanding learning that is important for us to consider. It is an attitude towards learning that breaks down a goal into smaller, more manageable steps. In deep practice there really isn't any right or wrong. Learning is described as sweet, each step along the way. The achievement is described as ah-ha moments of enlightened bliss.
The Sweet Spot Coyle describes, is that perfect moment, internally and intuitively felt, that acts as the true measure of personal satisfaction and success for the students in his study. We all could learn something from Daniel Coyle. If we could abandon judgements of our individual accomplishments, it would seem we might find more peaceful and graceful experiences in acquiring the knowledge we seek, through whatever skill we wish to develop. If at first effort we don't succeed, we simply try-try-again to find the sweet spot. Doesn't seem like such a bad away to go. Perhaps, the phrase isn't so cliche after all.
Coyle, Daniel: The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born, It's Grown, Here's How: Chapter 1: The Sweet Spot: Bantam: 2009
*Hiller, B.B.: The Karate Kid: Scholastic Books: 1984
**Stallone, Sylvester: Rocky: Ballantine Books: 1976
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: Mindfulness (Psychology): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29