Over the past year, I’ve been making the sometimes painful transition from working harder to working smarter, often against the grain of long-established habits instilled by ideas about work ethics and the meaning we assign being at some work “place” doing work “things” in a work “way.” I’m all good with taking time off…what I need is not having a great divide between the two. At the moment, I take advantage of technology to build a bridge to something altogether different. I take more and more working vacations, or workations.
This workation, I read The Talent Code (Bantam Dell, 2009) in which author Daniel Coyle frames a “code” for talent. This code consists of three elements. Though he presents them in a slightly different order, I offer them chronologically:
- “ignition,” instigating motivation fuel
- “deep practice,” the act of installing natural broadband and,
- “master coaching,” building the skills in others
We’re at a great place in many ways and yet, there’s something that hasn’t yet clicked—there are still energy leaks that allow momentum that we gain (think: the herculean effort of synergistic collaboration generated for Obama’s election) to peter out in such a way that it feels like we’re starting from scratch again and again.
Over the next few months, I’ll look at some of the barriers we experience—some known and acknowledged, others not so much—and by the end, we just might have something we can apply with precision to all aspects of the work we do for change to get better results, more predictably and more consistently, that build on each other and are sustained over longer periods of time. That like clockwork, in a phrase: we make more effective movements.
The Talent Code’s catchphrase is “Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.”
Through myriad discussions that he revisits over and over again, probably the most important gift Coyle offers is to liberate the notion of talent from mysterious and amorphous ideas that leave us in a gray space of some kind of magic that only certain lucky people possess and therefore you either have it or you don’t and you go the way of the rest of the lemmings, pre-determined to live out an unsatisfactory life. He unpacks, reframes and then repackages talent and hands it back to us as what it should be rightfully understood as: skill. What’s great about that is we’re generally in agreement that skill isn’t pre-existing; it can be taught and, once taught, it can be grown. The proposition here is that we have what we need and who we need. Then what’s tripping us up? ITHS or…It’s The How, Stupid. Time to get to the how.
If this were a book, I’d make the catchphrase “Movements Aren’t Stumbled Upon. They’re Generated. Here’s How.”
The central concept The Talent Code asserts is to define skill in this way: “Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals.” It succinctly states that “…the story of skill and talent is story of myelin.”
The short story of myelin is that for a long time we’ve focused on neurons and the firing of their circuits being key to making things happen. Which is still true, but that firing is like a light switch: it’s either on or off. If it’s off, nothing happens; if it’s on at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter. Turns out the neurons are held within an infrastructure that was long referred to as just “white matter”. Among other things, the white matter contains myelin. And because myelin is literally insulation that wraps around the neural circuits, it keeps the energy of those firing circuits from leaking. Up to 3000 times improved information processing for better results, more predictably and more consistently, that build on each other and are sustained over longer periods of time. In a word, more effective.
More than being able to do stuff, skill means stuff happens when it matters. Skill is the right stuff at the right time.
Three Keys to More Effective Movement
When I think about such a code in movement terms, I see three familiar things:
Motivation—what Coyle calls “ignition”—requires energy passion and commitment, which are most often put in play by having locked into a powerful vision of our ideal selves and future around which we organize and energize.
From master coaching, we gain the endurance we need to carry movements through temporal illusions so we can weather innumerable Tea Parties and understand the setbacks they cause as mere moments in political time. Movements may look like they suddenly “spring” out of nowhere, but it’s mentorship provided by our elders that keeps us on course. Being able to grow stables of “talent” in the form of inspiring leaders, strategic organizers and damn good people is sustainability that matters.
Vision, Practice & Endurance
In the end, there are no surprises as to what we need to make movements work. In some configuration our current movements have had all three things but haven’t had them altogether.
Much adieu has been made about the Arab Spring, but while its scale is impressive and initial impact admirable, upon reflection it has thus far been plagued with the same thing that stymies our movements here at home: (perceived) lack of coherence of the elements needed to transform an uprising into a truly sustained movement. Enough of the right stuff at the right time.
Next time we’ll look at what gets in the way of skill and what we can do about.
We need more than just a Spring, we need Summer, Fall and Winter too.
Let’s build our movement-making skill and break the code of transformation.
—yours in truth, aKw
dedicated to all the People that strive on behalf of our humanity.
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changeangel: all things change. (sm)
angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change.
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