Picture someone you know who is incredibly talented: an athlete, a musician, a scientist.

You probably wish you had been born with some type of gift, right?

You were.

"We are often taught that talent begins with genetic gifts--that the talented are able to effortlessly perform feats the rest of us can only dream about. This is false. Talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high-performing person or group. This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind:

"I could be them."

That's the introduction to Daniel Coyle's The Little Book of Talent, a cool book filled with 52 easy, proven methods to improve almost any skill. It's a great guide; in just a few minutes you'll think, Oh, wow, several times.

Here's an example. You want to get better at something. At anything. Just going through the practice motions provides little or no results, though, so the key is to make sure you use a method that follows the R.E.P.S. gauge:

R: Reaching and Repeating

E: Engagement

P: Purposefulness

S: Strong, Speedy Feedback

Let's take a brief look at each.

Reaching and Repeating: Practice should require you to operate at the edge of your abilities. In short, you have to consistently reach and constantly repeat.

Say you're leading a training session. Should you:

1. Call on one person, ask a question, and have him or her answer it, or

2. Pose the question first, and then randomly choose someone to answer (and maybe even turn the exercise into a game)?

The second is the best approach, because everyone has to reach, every time--even if he or she isn't called on. Call on John from accounting, and I know I don't have to answer the question; I can sit back, check my email, and wait until you eventually call on me. I don't have to reach but--maybe--once.

Always put yourself--or the people you're training--in a position to reach, over and over again.

Engagement: Practice must command your attention and make you feel emotionally invested in striving for a goal.

Say you're trying to perfect your slide transitions for a presentation. Should you:

1. Run through the whole presentation 10 times, or

2. Try to hit each transition perfectly, without mistakes, three presentations in a row?

Running through your presentation 10 times in a row will feel like death; trying to be perfect three times in a row turns the exercise into a game you care about.

Make sure the outcome of every practice session is something you will care about: You'll try harder and be more engaged, and you'll improve more rapidly.

Purposefulness: Practice must directly connect to the skill you want to build. (Sounds obvious, but often what we practice has little to do with what we need to accomplish.)

Say you feel nervous and intimidated when you have to speak to a group. Should you:

1. Rehearse at home, alone, until you know your material inside out, or

2. Practice speaking to small groups of people in less formal settings, like in a meeting?

Although solo rehearsing certainly helps, the only way to perform well under the pressure of an audience is to actually practice speaking to people. No amount of solo practice will prepare you for the nerves you'll feel when every eye in the room is on you.

Strong, Speedy Feedback: Practice must provide an immediate and consistent flow of accurate information about performance.

Say you're studying for a certification exam. You purchased a sample test guide. Should you:

1. Take a complete test and wait until the next day to see how you did, or

2. Complete a section and immediately grade your answers to see where you went wrong (and right)?

Take the test in chunks. Check your results right away. Immediate feedback is the best feedback; you'll better connect the dots because you're in the flow. Waiting even a day for feedback creates a mental distance and a lack of engagement that are really hard to overcome--which means much of the time you spent trying to learn was wasted.

Published on: Aug 22, 2012
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