Month: June 2012

Introducing Your Talent-Tip Hall of Fame

We just arrived in Alaska, where we’re spending a big chunk of the summer. So far, everything’s going well: family and friends are healthy, weather’s been solid, and during this morning’s coffee, we had an official welcoming committee: a newborn moose calf and its mother ambling through the backyard.

Speaking of arrivals, it’s exactly 10 weeks until The Little Book of Talent publication date (August 21). As a way of marking the countdown, I’d like to update one of my favorite posts from about a year and a half ago, when I asked you readers to name the single best tip — the best advice, the best strategy, the best practice tool — they’ve ever received.

Your responses (all 71 of them) were terrific — so terrific, in fact, that it seems a shame to let them be buried in the comments section of the old post. So with that in mind, I’ve combed through the tips and selected my top four favorites.

  • 1) Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast (from Greg Sumpter)

I think we typically want to learn a skill as quickly as possible, and be done with learning it. If we could only slow down, break things down into small reproducible parts, and excel in a smoother way, we would get to the end product with excellence much more quickly.

Why I like it: Because it keeps me focused on what really counts: being accurate and efficient, and letting the speed come later.

  • 2) Start with the End in Mind (Bill Dorenkott, Head Coach of Ohio State Women’s Swim Team)

My 20-minute drive to work allows me quiet time to employ this rule for my day, week and season. I find it much easier to reverse-engineer a challenge than to fly by the seat of my pants.

Why I like it: Because there’s a huge gap between mere activity and targeted work; this saves me time.

  • 3) Cultivate Awareness (Kent Bassett)

Instead of engaging in a running commentary about all the mistakes to avoid, and keeping a list of all the mistakes made, you should cultivate awareness. It fires the more unconscious, creative part of the mind. You can even say to yourself, “I’m going to play this passage, and I’m not going to try to avoid mistakes. I might even try to make mistakes.” This counter-intuitive technique allows you to play more freely, and often, with fewer mistakes.

Why I like it: Because  rather than getting governed by your mistakes (always a danger), this helps you focus on mastering them.

  • 4) Feel pain, not hurt (Markus)

Feeling pain is a signal of growing and improving. [Feeling] hurt is a signal of stop which pause the flow of skill development.

Why I like it: Because it makes clear the useful distinction between good pain (stretch, struggle, reach) and bad pain (ouch).

What I really like, however, is the idea that this master list of talent-development tips exists, and that we can make it even more useful by sharing it and adding to it as time goes on. So with that in mind, here’s the entire list, along with a question: what are your favorites? What new tips need to be added?

What’s Your Coaching-Thought?

One strategy I’ve always found useful is the “swing-thought.” The term originates with golf; it refers to focusing on a single idea as you swing the club.

For example, one swing-thought might be SMOOOOTH. Or ROLL WRISTS.  A good swing-thought works because it un-clutters the mind, clarifies focus, and captures the essence of your best performance.

Which makes me wonder: do the best coaches and teachers have the equivalent of swing-thoughts as they work? Are there key ideas coaches can use in the moment of teaching to help them coach better?

Based on my observations, I’d say that most master coaches have three distinct coaching-thoughts.

The first is CONNECT. They create a personal link; they use their interpersonal skills to capture the spotlight of the learner’s attention. Until that’s achieved, nothing useful can happen.

The second coaching-thought is ASK. The coach puts forth a task — it could be doing a drill or playing a song, or trying something new — it doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as the task 1) is unmistakably clear; 2) puts the learner on the edge of their ability (which is to say, it’s neither too hard nor too easy).

The third is RESPOND. The coach perceives what the learner is doing, and uses it to generate the next task. The next task might be more difficult, or it might be easier — all that matters is that it helps the learner navigate closer to the goal of proficiency.

Connect. Ask. Respond. This process isn’t a lecture from a podium. It’s more like a personal conversation that happens on the edge of the learner’s abilities.

When I coach, I find it useful to visualize what’s happening inside the learner’s brain: to picture the wires glowing, trying to connect, the new circuitry forming through each repetition. I know, it sounds sort of science-fiction-ish, but it works for me because it helps focus on the underlying process. Mistakes aren’t verdicts; they’re pieces of information you use to build the right connections.

Next question for you coaches and teachers: what images and ideas are going through your mind as you work? Are there any useful “coaching-thoughts” you’d like to share?

My First Reader

One of the big moments for a new book happens about 90 days before publication, when the bound galleys arrive from the printer. Bound galleys are basically a paperback with a generic cover, designed to be sent around for early readers. They are the dress rehearsals of the book world: not perfect, but close enough to give the feeling of the real thing.

Last week, the moment arrived. One of the first copies went to Andy Ward, my editor at Bantam/Random House, who brought it home to the busy, book-filled home he shares with his wife and their two soccer-playing, ballet-dancing daughters.

On Saturday morning, Andy was driving his younger daughter to her year-end ballet recital — a big deal, with an audience of 200 or so — when he turned around and saw this:

Andy reports she then went out and rocked the recital.

There’s something else you should know about Andy: his wife, Jenny Rosenstrach, is the author of a remarkable new book called Dinner: A Love Story, which is is designed to help families tap into the simple power of the family meal.

Now, I could tell you how well the book is written, or how fantastically useful and smart it is, or how beautiful it is. I could tell you how much I’ve learned from it already (how to properly fold a burrito — who knew?) or how my family and I are loving Jenny’s recipes.

But mostly, I just want to tell you that you should buy it. Also, check out their terrific blog.

PS — Jenny’s gonna be talking DALS on the Today Show on Wednesday, June 13. Check it out.