Book Reviews

How Sweet is Success?

English Composition I: Achieving Expertise
Critical Review of Daniel Coyle’s “The Sweet Spot”

Review: Coyle, Daniel (2009). “The Sweet Spot.” The Talent Code. Greatness Isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. New York: Bantam 2009. 11-29


Coyle proceeds on a journey to lesser known places, to gain insight into the success stories of several ordinary people inhabiting them. He scrutinizes the potential and hidden talent, their motivation to shine amidst all odds, how they carve a niche for themselves after overcoming hurdles with effective course correction. The chapter goes on to explain the various techniques to achieve the same.


Success is achieved by the choicest few who invest money and time; the downtrodden majority is deprived of triumph due to the lack of financial support is a notion several amongst us may carry. Geniuses are born, endowed with intuitive thinking, not made - Is it so? Is there an element of luck, or it is by relentless, smart work one attains victory? Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code: The Sweet Spot proclaims the findings of his “great expedition” (p. 12), his itinerary encompassing lesser known locales, ranging from a ramshackle tennis court in Moscow, inner city school in San Jose, to a rundown music academy in New York’s Adirondacks, a baseball -mad Caribbean island and other “humble places” that were “titanically accomplished.” (p. 12).

Each of the nine “talent hotbeds” makes him wonder at the “statistical impossibility” of how “a mouse had somehow come to rule the forest.”(p.12). Using the analogy of a “herd of running deer” coming to a halt after running into a “hillside covered with ice,” (p.12), Coyle elucidates that talent emerges after reviewing “small failures” (p.13), working on mistakes, consciously making modifications. “Effortless performance” is a “terrible way to learn” and “one real encounter is far more useful than several hundred observations.”(Bjork. p.18). Coyle throws light upon this with an example- trying on the” life vest” several times, struggling with “tabs and straps” (p.18) under normal circumstances would prove more beneficial than being a “mute spectator to a concise one minute demonstration.” (p.17)

Practice is better than mere theoretical knowledge is validated with concrete examples and case studies. After noteworthy observations, Coyle spells out that Brazil with its “friendly climate,” “passion,” “diverse population” and “poverty,” (p.15) since 1950, has produced many world class players, who have a “ball handling skill faster than anywhere else in the world.”(p.15) He supports the cliché “Failure is the stepping stone to success,” when he states- “slipping and stumbling makes you swift and graceful” (p.18). By “practicing deeply,” time is used “more effectively,” and even the smallest of efforts help to “produce big, lasting results.” (p.19). Interestingly, Gladwell too affirms this - “there is no such thing as a self-made man.” (Mail Reporter)


Coyle’s “chicken wire Harvards” (p.12), appears to have some semblance to the story of diminutive David defeating the mighty Goliath! Talking about the “innovation gene” major social changes comes from “outliers” (Malcolm Gladwell) “In the systemized models of learning, students must learn to navigate and “fit.” The pressure to fit into a strait- jacket could hold back the learner from exhibiting the inherent, innate talents. A “beak-nosed” ‘‘tinkerer” (p.21) would be more proficient in creating a masterpiece! “Edwin Link’s Unusual Device” (p.20) which was first viewed as a “novel profitable amusement device (p.22) did see the light of the day and became well known as “The Blue Box” (p.24). It gave thousands of pilots a chance to “practice more deeply” (p.24) to “take off” and “land” without fear of crashing. “Thousands of unskilled youth “were transformed into “pilots” quickly and “safely.” (p.23) Coyle’s work substantiates the well-known quote- “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently.” (Shiv Khera)

One may presuppose that the “concentrated talent” is attributed to a combination of genes and environment” (p.14) exclusive to Brazil, that several other countries which have similar features, have been unable to make a mark in the world scenario. Also, Coyle has not laid more emphasis on the genetic factors, instead, has focused on the struggle, the appropriate and timely corrections, in order to find that “sweet spot” where “learning takes off.” (p.20). Interestingly, the evidence has been provided in Clifford‘s “finding the missing link.”(p.26) Clifford observed the “time, effort and energy” poured into the home made “futsal” (p.26) – “the incubator of the Brazilian soul.” Clifford hit a jackpot when he carried the tactics and the game to Yorkshire’s “sooty, chilly Leeds.” (p.29)

There is a minor trepidation about the ‘life jacket demonstration.” Despite rehearsals, repeated practices and forewarnings, does the brain function in the same way under duress? The gut instinct functions when the brain is temporarily paralyzed, a totally unplanned action results; even a simple task may appear impossible- “for the short time that it's offline, from seconds to minutes, you may not be quite as clever as usual.” (LA Times)


Apart from this trivial concern, Coyle’s Talent Code urges the reader to stop and deliberate on the universal truth that practice makes perfect. No pains, No gains! Several thinkers have attained “self realization” after embarking on a journey preparing the mind and emotions psychologically and spiritually. Reading Coyle’s Sweet Spot motivates the reader to embark on a voyage of self- improvement.


1. Gladwell Malcolm: Outliers: The Story of Success
    De Mille Oliver: The Chemistry of Genius? New Science on What Makes Quality Education

2. Rooney Martin: The Talent Revelation. COO, Parisi Speed School

3. Mail Online: Daily Mail Reported: Practice makes Perfect

4. Los Angeles Times: Division of Duty is the name of the Brain Game

5. Khera Shiv: You Can Win. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2004


More by :  Hema Ravi

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