With the new book arriving in stores today, I thought I’d mark the occasion in the traditional way: by doing an author Q&A, like you see on Jon Stewart or Piers Morgan. In this case, however, I’ve decided to do the interview with the savviest questioners I know: my four kids, ages 10-17.
Not to say that LBOT is a book designed just for kids; it’s for everybody who’s interested in improving their skills, ages 10-100. But it’s clear that kids, particularly these ones, have a way of looking into the heart of things. Even if they are a bunch of smart alecks.
Without further ado, here’s a partial transcript:
Q: So seriously — which one of us is your favorite?
A: Whoever asks the best questions. So far, that’s the winner.
Q: Why did you decide to write a little book of talent? Why not a medium book of talent? Why not a super-long book of talent?
A: The Talent Code is about looking inside talent hotbeds and seeing what makes them tick.
This book takes that idea and flips it on its head. The idea is to take the lessons of the talent hotbeds and to boil them down into a set of simple tips. Do this, not that. And the best way to do that wasn’t to write a medium or a long book. So, a little book. A manual.
Plus, what I liked best about writing Talent Code was the way it put me in touch with lots of fascinating people who were putting these ideas to work. To me, that’s the most fun thing about writing books — the conversations that it creates. So I guess this is my sneaky way of doing that again.
Q: Where did the tips come from?
I’ve been collecting them for five years now. It started when I was at this tennis club called Spartak in Moscow, and the players were practicing in slow-motion — swinging forehands and backhands super-precisely — and I thought — hey, I should use that method for teaching my Little League baseball players how to hit. And I did. And it worked really, really well.
From that moment I started collecting tips, especially after the first book was published. Tips from the Navy SEALs, the U.S. Olympic coaches, top music academies, businesses, schools, pro sports teams, from scientists who study learning. I kept collecting, and pretty soon the list was getting longer and longer. It needed to be collected in one place, and LBOT is that place.
Q: Did you use us as guinea pigs?
A: Yep. When you learn about this stuff — when you see it work — you can’t help but get kinda infected by some of these ideas. So yes, your mom and I did use a lot of these tips in our daily life. When we tell you to break everything down into small chunks, or that struggle is a good thing — that’s all from the research for the book.
Q: Are there other books like this?
A: Not really. Most books about skill focus on certain narrow types of skill. LBOT is broader, because its built on the idea that all skills — athletic, musical, business, parenting — are really about growing your brain, about struggling in certain ways so that the wires of your brain get faster and more accurate.
One of the inspirations was Food Rules, by Michael Pollan; another was Elements of Style, the writing manual by Strunk and White. And if you think about it, developing skill is a lot like developing good eating habits or good writing habits. A few simple rules can take you a long way. Like when your mom tells you not to eat junk food.
Q: Why is there a gold medal on the front of the book?
A: I suppose because there was one on the front of The Talent Code. It shows the books are like siblings. Happy, friendly, golden siblings, who always get along. Exactly like you guys.
Q: Why are there 52 tips? Why not 152?
A: It was a Goldilocks decision, feeling our way along. We started with the goal of true simplicity: having each tip fit on one page. At one point there were 75 tips — that felt like too many, and some of them overlapped each other. In the end there were 53. I decided to make it 52, since there are 52 weeks in a year, 52 cards in a deck.
Q: What was the 53rd tip, the one that got cut?
A: It was about relationships — and about how important it is to build the skill for building and maintaining good relationships, since in the end that’s the most important thing.
Q: Which tip do you think is the most useful?
A: I’m partial to tip #43: Embrace Repetition. Because most of us have an instinctive allergy to repetition. We see it as a drag, as something to be avoided. But in fact, that’s a huge misperception. Repetition the greatest tool in our toolbox, because it’s the most effective way to make our brains fast and accurate. Like Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.” And we all know that Bruce Lee is one cool dude.
Q: Which tip is your favorite?
A: I really like Tip #5: Be Willing to Be Stupid, because it’s helped me take better risks — like with writing this blog with you guys. I also like Tip #30: Take a Nap.
Q: Do people ask about your toupee?
A: Again, I’m going to have to go with no comment. Also: that joke will never get old.
Q: Or is it a joke?
A: I suppose now we’ll never know.