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Ignite his primal cues

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primal cues

How does a young person find the motivational energy to commit himself around one theme long enough that it changes his life? What if talent is a process that can be ignited by primal cues?

Here is what Daniel Coyle says:

Why was Tom Sawyer able to persuade Ben to help him whitewash the fence? The answer is that Tom flung primal cues at Ben with the speed and accuracy of a circus knife-thrower.

In the space of a few sentences, he managed to hit bull’s-eyes of exclusivity (“ All I know is, it suits Tom Sawyer … I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand …”) and scarcity (“ Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day? … Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence”).

His gestures and body language echoed the same messages.

If Tom had only sent one or two of these signals, or if they’d been spaced over the course of a leisurely hour, his cues would have had no effect; Ben’s trigger would have remained untouched. But the rich combination of cues, peppering Ben’s ignition switch one after another, succeeded in cracking open his vault of motivational energy.

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (pp. 119-120). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The author noticed that hotbeds of talent did NOT appear randomly across a cultural landscape as you would expect if something were genetically popping up here and there through the population. The creation of clusters of talented people (aka “hotbeds”) appear instead to be triggered entirely by behavior, even in reaction to other people’s behaviors. One of those behavioral factors that seems to play a big role is the often, out-of-ordinary attitude of the adult mentors involved in those hotbeds of motivation.

As the author spoke to the people in such hotbeds of talent, interacting with both the children and their teachers, he noticed that the young people were being talked to by their adult mentors in a special way. The adults in these children’s lives spoke in the high language of prizing, scarcity, and exclusivity.

What is the language of prizing, scarcity, and exclusivity, you ask? Here’s an example of dialogue I use at the dinner table with my own children.

You can find a demonstration of that prizing language in the beloved “Tom Sawyer,” the quintessential boy’s adventure story. A well-known, amusing fence-painting passage in Tom Sawyer perfectly distills the type of conversations Mr. Coyle overheard in such hotbeds of motivation and talent.

The adults that Daniel Coyle observed in those super-talented contexts communicated through their words and their body language a very clear message: we we are not embarked on a quest for mediocrity and look-alike performance, but we are embarked on a special quest for excellence that has great value.

What the author of “The Talent Code” says he observed makes sense to me. I believe that children are in fact primed to be able to accept and assimilate the values of their elders, especially their parents.

In practice, what the elders value little, the children also tend to value little. What the elders and mentors value much, the children also tend to value very much. Of course, as the children grow up, that ability to be influenced with such basic primal cues of encouragement and direction by their elders lessens over time. That is as it should be as it gives the children room to grow into their decision-making abilities.

The application of this understanding of primal cues means that when people are young, it is an opportunity for parents with high aspirations to deliberately jump-start their children onto a higher track in life. You can “crack open their vault of motivational energy”, as Daniel Coyle puts it so directly.

Here is why it is better to crack that vault now while your son is still under your roof. As your child crosses over into adulthood and leaves your home, he can certainly learn to find causes for motivation on his own terms, even into his late thirties. But unless you yourself experienced an usually prosperous and easy entry into your work life, I don’t think you would wish that your young person have to go through the same experiences you did.

Here’s the danger to avoid: if you wait for your young person to find it on his own, he will most likely miss that crucial lift-off phase that allows him to escape years of being bogged down by pursuits and jobs that do little to nothing to build amazing talent. The benefits of finding an early, fiery motivation will allow him to reap huge benefits in his early adulthood. Talented young men, instead of serving before obscure people, will be called up to serve before kings. (Proverbs 22: 29)

Parents, do not let that opportunity escape you to unlock the vault of their motivation. Start talking today the language of prizing, scarcity, and exclusivity with your child.

3 by-products of your teenager pursuing talent NOW

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isolated ocean of knowledge

 

Have you ever found that a review of a favorite book really does a good job bringing it home?

Here is an excerpt from a book reviewer on Amazon commenting on the book “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin

“The benefits of deliberate practice are that we perceive more, know more, and remember more in a specific domain of knowledge that we have chosen. This makes us more aware of our uniqueness as well as the uniqueness in others. The [Talent is Overrated] book suggests that over time we develop mental models of how our domain functions as a system.

As a result, we connect with every day events not as an isolated bit of data but as part of a large and comprehensive picture.”

I agree with this reader’s comment. The earlier your teenage son or daughter can find a way to focus around a long term talent, the more amazingly easy it is for him to succeed at what he wants to do.

This is because he is not learning one hour here in this subject and one hour over there in that subject. In a person without a specific talent focus, those are two disconnected work hours of his life spent learning various factoids pulled from two different domains of knowledge, but having little-to-no benefit of bringing added-value to each domain.

However, in a talent-focused child, those two hours are more than just two sequential hours of work. The two domains of knowledge augment each other’s value. This is because a big vision for the purpose of one’s daily work triggers an integration between normally separate domains of knowledge and skills.

This is the ideal: each new hour of learning in one domain is an hour that can be counted on to augment the value in another domain. It is a type of compounding effect.

Example: a 15 year old young man has a passion for flying and has easy access to training hours because of a good pilot friend of the family.

He discovers through the chatter from other pilots that there is growing demand for paid flight instructors on American soil to teach the future pilots from China and Japan (true story!). He hears that this new and growing demand is coming from the commercial airlines in those countries who prefer to have their people trained here. The English language and culture for communicating between pilots is the preferred common ground. This is creating opportunities for young pilots to start early careers.

This causes him to drop his Latin language course and decide to instead do daily language Skype exchanges with other young men from mainland China and Tokyo. This triggers an interest to dive deep into the WWII history of Asia (thus tying in another subject area).

As his pilot training increases, he then realizes that his love for the science of aeronautics is growing. This causes him to sign up for a special online course that will help him take a college level examination course in aeronautics.

I will stop at this point in the example, as I think you have now gotten the point.

Here is three by-products of pursuing talent on your young person’s mental health:

  1. He will no longer experience that feeling of anxiety about all the things he does not know.
  2. He will no longer feel isolated in an ocean of knowledge
  3. But he will feel himself a conqueror on the verge of contributing something unique in his generation.

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Three Things You Won’t Have to Say

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A hot dog stand

What happened after graduation when talent development took a back seat in the home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get your child to graduate from home with a 10,000 hour talent and you won’t have to say one of these three dreadful attaboys:

  •  I’m just grateful he has a job.
  • Bless his heart, he’s trying.
  • At least he’s not doing drugs.
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Secret to Avoiding a Cute Hobby

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interview traditional cooking

Would you like to eavesdrop on an intelligent conversation on how to create a unique talent opportunity for your young person? Listen here.

Do you want to know what the secret is to making sure that it is not some cute hobby that will do next-to-nothing for your son or daughters’s future prospects? Listen here.

I explain how to develop talent in young people during the entire 60-minute podcast by Wardee Harmon. She is the owner and chief cook at the online school www.TraditionalCooking.com . What caught my attention was the fact that she herself was using her life’s interests exactly along the lines of what my 10ktotalent method suggests: by finding a way to make a core skill bring value to others and not as a stand alone skill by itself.

Listen to the point in the interview she makes about how it was not until she was in her late twenties that she finally started a learning journey of her own that made sense to the vision for her own life. How much better it would have been if she had had a method that could have started her in her teens. Enter “yours truly”, to explain a strategy of how that can be accomplished much sooner rather than much later.

Wardee asks me how I would approach talent in a young person’s life if the interest was already there for traditional cooking or homesteading. Her podcast audience has a shared interest for real food and traditional cooking so it would be natural for the children of her listeners to also have grown up with a passion for growing food, fermenting food, or cooking food in a traditional way. Does such an early interest mean something to son or daughter’s future opportunities? or is it neither here nor there? This was a great how-to-create-talent interview because she wanted me to explain how do you turn such a type of interest and passion into eventually an opportunity that can support a family. And that’s what I take the time to clearly explain.

Your child’s core skill, such the ability to grow a Victory garden, can be used as the first skill around which to wrap many others until it gets transformed into a market valuable talent.

Here are some of the links mentioned in Wardee Harmon’s Podcast:

Connect with the Best in Your Generation
Example of 10,000 Hours in Practice
Does Your Child Have a Tag Line for his Talent?
Same Experience Repeated Over and Over is Not Talent
Redding Drone by Jonathan Harris Jr. (17 years old)
Scarabcoder Learns to Program by Nicholas Harris (13 years old)
Blades of Belaq by Caleb Harris (15 years old)
KYF #009: Nourishing Skin Care with Renee from hardlotion.com

Make Acceleration Feats Routine

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greatness is grown

Daniel Coyle says the following in this excerpt from “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.” (p. 84 in Kindle Edition):

in seven weeks, most students will learn a year’s worth of material, an increase of about 500 percent in learning speed. Among the students, this acceleration is well known but only dimly understood…

These feats are routine…

The goal is always the same: to break a skill into its component pieces (circuits), memorize those pieces individually, then link them together in progressively larger groupings…

Through practice, they had developed something more important than mere skill; they’d grown a detailed conceptual understanding that allowed them to control and adapt their performance, to fix problems, and to customize their circuits to new situations. They were thinking in chunks and had built those chunks into a private language of skill…

 

Being self-aware of how one is learning accelerates talent growth. Good coaches and good mentors can help teach awareness. And parents, especially parents, can cultivate that awareness at an early age. Awareness can also be deliberately developed by the young person himself as he gets older, but why leave it for him to find out on his own at a much later age?

If your child becomes self-aware about how and why he is able to learn, he can then accelerate his progress in his chosen area of talent. He learns how to decompose the actual learning process itself so that he doesn’t have to keep increasing the sheer number of brute working hours. By understanding how to change strategy or technique along the way, you will be giving your young person the mental tools to take control of the direction and speed of his learning.

Parents, think carefully: are you actively encouraging that mindset or are you letting the outline of a textbook dictate the best strategy for making progress?

Make acceleration feats routine.

Everything is Up for Being Hacked, Even Education

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“Hackschooling makes me happy” by Logan LaPlante

Some of my favorite excerpts of this boy’s speech are:

everything is up for being hacked…even education

I take advantage of opportunities in my community and through a network of my friends and family. I take advantage of opportunities to experience what I am learning.

I’m not afraid to look for shortcuts or hacks to get a better or faster result. It’s like a remix or a mash-up of learning: flexible, opportunistic,…

It’s a mindset, not a system.

I didn’t use to like to write because my teachers made me write about butterflies and rainbow and I wanted to write about skiing.

I got to write through my experiences and my interest while connecting with great speakers from around the nation. And that sparked my love for writing.

I realized that once you are motivated to lean something, you can get a lot done in a short amount of time and on your own.

Inspired me to one day have my own business

So I got an internship

Happy healthy creative

This is where I am really happy: Powder days. It’s a good metaphor for my life, my education, my hackschooling. If everyone skied this mountain like most people think of education, everyone would be skiing the same line, probably the safest and most of the powder would go untouched. I look at this and see a thousand possibilities…Skiing to me is freedom and so is my education. It’s about being creative, doing things differently…among my very best friends.

 

Do a MacGyver on a MacGuffin Homeschool Curriculum

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Angus MacGyver

Are you a MacGyver? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some parents, the real educational goal for their child may be to simply marry well or to avoid military enrollment as a last resort. For other parents, the real goal may be produce a son who becomes a successful entrepreneur rather than an employee. Or it may be to produce a daughter who is unusually proficient in the ministry of hospitality.

However, whichever of the many underlying reasons, many parents will still choose just one particular learning curriculum, very often a default MacGuffin goal of using that curriculum for getting into college for a liberal arts degree. In some cases it is not a mistake, when the goal is clearly understood.

But in general, a one size fits all solution is a mistake: a MacGuffin can be a very inefficient, expensive, and round-about way to achieving any of those examples mentioned earlier. Usually there is a much more efficient way to meet your true goals for your young person, assuming you know what your true goals are in the first place. So if you are not afraid, do a MacGyver with your child’s textbooks and homework assignments.

It’s your son. It’s your daughter. It’s time to take charge.

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A Swordfish Named Opportunity

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Do you remember the update on my oldest son’s entrepreneurial talent journey? Last week he received a phone call in the middle of working on a school lesson. “Could you make it up to Lake Whiskeytown today? We need your drone service.” – said the voice on the other line. With a quick check with me, and with the principle that his schoolwork is his slave and not his master, I gave him the green light to grab that opportunity and catch up on his study work at a later time.

This last minute opportunity turned out to be a rather fun assignment for him as it involved a swordfish, jet-subs, hanging out with inventors, and getting a joy ride as part of being with the crew (can you spot him half way through the promotional video?). In the short Facebook clip below, you can see the work he did as all the aerial parts of it were done by him.

Stop this English Course Now

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snapshot of horsehaven

Having a real reason to write can make all the difference for some young people. One of the best places to write with a purpose is on a blog.

We had an educational failure recently. It was not a big failure, but it reminded us to stay alert as parents. We had to stop an English writing course designed for middle-schoolers from causing any more consternation in our family. It was a great course as far as the content went, but it was putting our middle-school daughter way behind in the goals we wanted for her.

Here is the background on how we originally came to choose that course. My wife chose a company whose English curriculum had produced results for us in the past. Their high-school curriculum set aside the traditional approach of the five paragraph essay or the research paper and focused on a method that produced young people who were able to write original novels. As a matter of fact, we are still using their high-school course for young writers for one of our teenage boys. Then entered a particular need for one of my middle children.

My 13-year-old daughter has had great difficulty over the years in learning at the same pace as her brothers in the realm of reading and writing, no matter which method we tried (although we had found one approach that did allow her to make some progress). Around the age of eleven she suddenly seemed to finally discover some ease from her difficulties. Hurray! We rejoiced with her. Her old limitations were starting to disappear. Whatever the root cause, we then decided that maybe we could get a middle-school course for writing in order to catch her up to what most peers her age were able to do with writing. So when that company recently put out a systematic writing curriculum for middle-schoolers, we decided that it might be worth a try for just that particular child.

Within a month of use, we realized that experiment of using a traditional course was a complete failure for our daughter. Suddenly, we were back to the tears, confusion, frustration and constant parental hand-holding. The check list of things to know and things to do that you would expect in a traditional textbook were all in this course. Sure, it was wrapped in a better-than-average presentation format, but in the end, it fell far short of the ground breaking innovation that the high school English writing course had put out. Not wanting to admit at first that we made a mistake, we delayed a bit before making the decision that needed to be made. We swallowed our pride and cold-stopped the course, without any transition. We went back to the tried and true that has worked in our family.

With her brothers, we had, and still do, use blogs, writing e-books, and other public writing mediums to practice communicating clearly with regards to a talent focus or a specific interest. So that is the same method to which we decided to set her. Within days of switching to writing through a talent focus, my daughter was a happy learner again. Suddenly, my daughter was smiling again and writing like a maniac. It was as if someone had flipped on a switch. Now she has something she wants to say in her writing. She wants to know how to say it even better and is open to all sorts of writing corrections – and then understands the principle behind the corrections she is given!

Moral of the story: writing with a purpose has the power to overcome many weaknesses and psychological hangups. That purpose can be found in having your young person share his or her talent interest with the world.

Please go check my daughter’s blog at this address and leave her a comment:
http://horsehaven.posthaven.com/

If you want to jump-start your own child’s writing with a purpose in my mind, you may want to consider my e-course “Blog to Your Talent: Learn How to Showcase Your Talent in 42 Lessons

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Not Ready for the Master

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Follow me on Instagram at:

http://instagram.com/10ktotalent/

Are You a Talent Whisperer?

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From chapter eight in the book “The Talent Code”, the author talks about the amazing people behind the creation of some of the most talented people in the world. Very often there are those individuals around talented people who are best described as “talent whisperers.” Those whisperers know how to identify so closely with the needs and personality of a young person that they can coach and coax them to the next level of performance; they know how to be tough and tender, cold and hot, as the need arises. They are intensely interested in the talent and in the person trying to become better in that field of human endeavor.

Interestingly, a talent whisperer is not necessarily the same person through the various stages of expertise. Sometimes a beginner needs more of one type and style of coaching than when he does later on when he is operating at a much more complex level. That is one of the reasons why I tap into different experts over time to help my own children’s talents. (Another reason is because a marketable talent should not be made up of one type of skill that can be learned from one expert). When it comes to custom talent, one that does not have an easy title set to it, I recognize that I have a special advantage as a parent to help guide my son or daughter. For someone else other than the parent, it can be a risky endeavor to accurately judge the character and emotional maturity of a young person. But I have inside knowledge on how ready my own child is. I act as the “talent whisperer” within our family, even though the specific skills are often learned from someone outside our household.

For example, I know that for my thirteen year old daughter to transition out of one learning context into another, it can sometimes be a tricky maneuver. That is an almost impossible task to do for a 13 year old girl without risking offending and alienating those who have already helped her along the way. As the other resident household “talent whisperer”, my wife will insert herself into our daughter’s talent journey and closely guide the transition process. If the expert teachers and mentors are self-aware of their role, they will themselves gently give you the cue that it is time for your 13 year old to find another mentor. Many times though you don’t have the luxury of choosing such self-aware mentors and it is imperative to move forward, regardless of sensibilities. That’s when dad or mom can save the day.

Either way, gladly accept that there are various learning seasons in life for your child. Embrace your “talent whispering” persona realizing you are critical to a smooth progress. If she is transitioning then that means she is in fact growing! It is thanks to you that she is beginning to catch her own vision.

How to Turn Your Family Into a Hotbed of Talent

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How am I turning my family into a hotbed of talent for all of my children?

Here’s how:

I talk the talent language every day with my children: have you done some talent building today? what did you learn? what was hard? what was fun? Can you do it differently? Have you asked an expert about how to better get around the problem? Don’t give up,  you can do it. Tell me more. Try it a different way. Do it again. I’m proud of you for not stopping. You did good work today.

- But most adults will never talk like that to a young person.

I behave in a way that my children are convinced that I want them to have a real talent to carry into adulthood more than I want them to simply sound smart and educated.

- But most adults do not believe it is possible for their children to develop real talent, so they settle for being generally educated.

I re-arrange the school schedule so that it supports time for building talent. I say ‘no’ frequently to activities that are otherwise good, but not helpful to making progress.

- But most adults will never allow the pursuit of excellence to override a formal school schedule.

I watch how others succeed in one area or another with their children. I borrow the pieces of their methods and techniques that were good and apply them so that it fits my household. I’m always alert and receptive to someone else’s great idea.

- But most adults never ask questions of how it is done from those who are already very successful.

I make note of how others fail to launch their children and study the details of their failures. I then work it backwards until I find a different path so the same problems do not crop up in my household.

- But most adults will assume that if the hand of fate has failed their friends then they are convinced they are also meant to also fail rather than to do things differently.

I believe that almost every educational method can be improved. So everywhere I look I see possibilities for new and better ways for learning and teaching. I keep trying new things with the expectation that it gets better with time, not worse.

- But most adults hope that their children will repeat the same educational experience they had, down to eagerly discussing how they will repeat the same painful social experiences.

Can You Locate the Sweet Spot on the Edge of Your Student’s Ability?

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“Coaching is a long, intimate conversation, a series of signals and responses that move toward a shared goal. A coach’s true skill consists not in some universally applicable wisdom that he can communicate to all, but rather in the supple ability to locate the sweet spot on the edge of each individual student’s ability, and to send the right signals to help the student reach toward the right goal, over and over.”

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (p. 178). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When we speak of coaching, it is normally referring to someone who is helping your young person get good at one or more of the particular skills that make up his talent. He’s the man on the sidelines who gives encouragement and direction. He’s also the one that knows how to blow that whistle when there is too much playing around and not enough focus. But with the idea of the traditional coaching, I think we should include the parent who has a conscious desire to act on behalf of his child.

The “coach” parent acts on behalf of his child to create the strategy and the conditions in his life that makes the pursuit of talent possible. That parent may not how to teach a particular skill, but he knows to find the coach who does. That would be you, dear reader. That parent coaches his son or daughter to appropriately manage all the other important aspects of his life in a balanced way. He’s also there to make sure the talent doesn’t inadvertently destroy the rest of the child’s life outside of his talent pursuit (health, marriage, etc.). The coach parent recognizes the edge where the sweet spot is.

The alternative to being a “coach” parent is to simply let a boxed curriculum tell you what your son or daughter will doing on a daily basis, in the same way as it is telling a thousand other children to do on the same day for the same age. As the coach in your child’s life, you can avoid his fate of looking like those thousand other children. As the coach you tell the curriculum when and how much of it can be used. As the coach, you can and should use your whistle on any curriculum that oversteps its bounds.

Years of Bonding Conversations

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Father and Son Taking a Break Together

Driving your child to and from locations is an opportunity to talk on regular basis with your child away from the hubbub of family life at home. This tip is given to me by another homeschooling Dad, Will G., as an additional benefit of engaging in the to-and-fro of mini-talent mentoring relationships with people outside of your household. Your child is going to be relaxed and will enjoy your transportation company as a way to converse with you about all sorts of topics at his own rhythm and pace.

If you start early, at age 12 for example, you will have  several solid years of pleasant, edifying, and bonding conversations before he reaches the age of 18. Instead of growing apart, you will be growing closer together in the teenage years.

(updated on 2015)

Be Steadfast for Them Until They Are Ready

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Personal interests are good to have and they will bring great added-value by incorporating them into your child’s talent. However a young person’s personal interests are not enough to provide him with all the direction he needs to create something amazing.

What he also needs is the strength of character from his parents to support him as he works through his short attention span in his adolescent years. He needs your strength to navigate the highs and lows of short-term failures and successes in the pursuit of real talent. Very often, parents will be frustrated by their offspring’s desire one day to pursue one interest and then another day to completely change their enthusiastic focus to another interest. Today it is collecting coins. Tomorrow it is scuba diving at the local YMCA. You must stay engaged to help him interpret whether it is an opportunity or just a distraction to his real goals.

The fact that there are so many things that grab their attention is not wrong in itself at all. Their curiosity is high and their desire to make friends is high. This is partly what makes it possible for our young people be so fresh and open to the new things that need to get done. But if they keep switching their minds and their focus to many times, they will never gain enough traction to find joy in performing beyond the beginner’s level in any field of human endeavor. That is where you come in as a parent and where they depend on you to not be caving in on every new change of heart. By strength of character, I mean you must sometimes say ‘no’ to the request for participating in a new youth group activity or in starting up a new hobby. Some tears, some pouting, some sullenness, some confused looks might come your way, but so be it. Your son or daughter might resent you at first that you do not agree to their changing emotions, but you must be steadfast on their behalf until they are able to grow into their own complete vision for themselves.

Can She Sew Her Food?

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When trying to look at what can be used in a family’s environment, very often a skill asset is completely overlooked that could be one of the pieces of the puzzle to creating a unique and exciting talent for your child. Let us say for example that your daughter has a strong interest in cooking and also a strong interest in sewing. The normal reaction is to look down on one or the other skill because it is not clear how focusing on one or the other will add much value beyond knowing how to do the basics in the household. Remember that with the pursuit of inordinate talent we are also talking about talent that brings great value to others, so the initial reaction, as far as to how to judge it with bringing great value to others, is correct. There is not much value as stand-alone skill between those two. However, once you think of creative ways to dovetail skills already existing in your household, then the possible value starts becoming more apparent.

Back to the example: so does this mean I recommend you try to get her to sew her food? No, of course not. But what I do mean is you could encourage your daughter to sew specifically for clothing ware that fits the professional female chef or that fits the advanced home baker and cook. Having a strong, first-hand experience with the functionality needed to meet a kitchen environment, she can continually create and test better clothing options. She can even start testing and then reviewing on a blog various clothing ware offered on the market and demonstrate by video the pros and the cons as she bakes in the kitchen while modeling the work clothes. See what happened there at the end of this example? I managed to slip in a third skill, a writing skill, when I only wanted to talk about two skills! Now there are three skills working together, each giving strength to the other. Finding a venue to writing with a purpose and developing the voice of confidence comes natural. That’s because she is writing from the first-person point about two interests she both cares and knows about. The more skills that come together to support each other with purpose, the easier it gets to create something glorious for your child to pursue as an adult.

Your mission: find that one skill you are proud to see your child develop and then find a way to create a deeper value proposition by dovetailing it with a completely different interest in your child’s life.

Saying No To Learning Opportunities

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Stop sign in the United States

Not all STOP signals are as obvious as a street sign. If you are an alert parent, you will be able to discern when the time is right to stop something. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say “no” to learning opportunities when the effort can not be counted as deliberate practice hours of some kind. This means the parent stays alert to changing conditions so that his child can gracefully bow out of what previously may have been helpful, but no longer is.

In one situation, for example, my 12 year old son spent time cultivating a relationship with an older gentleman who had a lot of talent in a specialized area that he was eager to pass on to a younger person. As a consequence, I encouraged my son to read up on some topics and buy some protective gear that this same man had recommended so he could let him wield some torch bearing equipment. However, as the months rolled by, this same gentleman started showing a growing lack of confidence in his own abilities due to his increasing old age. I stepped in and helped my son bow out of such teaching sessions.

My experience has been that if there is someone whom you think your son or daughter would benefit from their teaching, but for some inexplicable reason your younger teenage is not wanting to be around that person, it is probably because the adult no longer has the social skills necessary to be helpful. If your child is an otherwise respectful child, then the problem is probably not with your child. We all know that some adults behave very differently around young people than when they interact with you as the adult. But it is not up to your child to have to have to explain the subtle differences to you. It is your job to be on the alert and help your child find a way to gracefully bow out.

Start Focusing on Passion and Talent Building at Age Twelve

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Start at age 12 to begin a talent focus. Don’t over-worry about missing opportunities before then as each season has its glory.

The age of twelve is a good age to start focusing on building a passion and talent. It’s at this age when the emotional desire and drive to be and do something great in their future begins. I find that if I do not help my boys feed and fuel themselves on a daily basis with the basic building blocks of a growing passion, that they become restless. The young eagles are yearning to fly up powerfully and I am happy as their father to be part of that guided and encouraging environment. And what about the younger children? They still enjoy living in the moment and so I let them run free after their basic school work and chores are complete.

Cautionary Tales Protect From Danger

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In every field of human endeavor there are real dangers, physical, emotional, and moral. It is better to learn about those specific dangers early on to avoid experiencing the painful consequences of wrong decisions. Cautionary Tales are a good way for your child to hear and assimilate the consequences of such dangers.

An excellent source for Cautionary Tales can be found in the biographies of famous talented people that are in your child’s field of interest. Another excellent source is from older and very experienced talented individuals who can scare you with stories of colleagues who lost an arm to a saw after failing to get enough sleep or of a friend who lost a lifetime of savings because they signed a contract without first getting advice. It can also be hearing about social boundaries that were not respected, such as about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who even though was immensely successful in his talent, had completely failed morally with his wife and children. His friends testified to his tragic failings, even while acknowledging his immense architectural talent.

Another place for your son or daughter to hear about cautionary tales is in the online forums or meetups where people of a similar talent congregate. Recently, my son who has an interest in bladesmithing, heard of a tragic ending to someone who disregarded the direction of the wheel turning during the final phase of buffing a blade. The knife then got accidentally caught in the high-velocity upward motion of the wheel and fatally impaled the worker. Result of taking shortcuts: immediate death. Having heard that, my son is now always making sure the wheel is working in the right direction. The cautionary tale served its purpose.

Scare them straight.

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Updated May 2014

Prepping: Do You Have Your Questions Ready?

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In the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell, he has a chapter entitled “The Problem With Geniuses, Part II.” In that chapter, he discusses what seems to be quite a big missing social skill in children who are otherwise academically well taught, but can’t seem to socially climb the talent ladder within their talent field. He boils it down to one basic reason: those children do not know how to engage and question authority figures in a way that helps them make progress. And this lack of social intelligence hurts them later in their adult life. They tend to just sit passively and let authority figures drone on and on without ever knowing how to interrupt to redirect the conversation in a way that is more helpful to the child.

A typical example of that type of behavior is that when the child, with that lacking social skill, goes to the doctor’s office, he just sits there quietly with very little verbal feedback to the doctor, who in turn just gives instructions. But here is the most interesting part: this type of child is actually mirroring his parent’s behavior. It has been observed that when the parents of that same child visit the doctor for their own needs, they also sit very quietly with eyes lowered as the doctor engages in a monologue.

Compare now the very different behavior of the child who respectfully, but assertively, interrupts the doctor to provide him more accurate information about his personal medical condition. In response to the child’s questions, the doctor modifies or clarifies his original information for the benefit of the young person’s understanding. Where does that social intelligence from the child come from? This intelligent social behavior seems to be learned from the parents and not from an innate personality trait. In this medical example, the child has usually been prepped by his mother beforehand as to what kind of questions might be asked of him by the doctor. He’s also instructed by his mother to make sure to ask that authority figure to provide better information if he doesn’t fully understand to his satisfaction.

That is the key: parents, whether mother or father, are key to teaching their children by patterning and by explicit verbal instruction on how to vigorously engage themselves with experts. This is important. Because with that ability to question, they can make progress in their understanding that is applicable to their situation. Children do NOT naturally learn that skill on their own. Parents who believe that it can be learned and passed on, act on this belief and take time to instruct on how to address authority figures and on how to extract information from them.

This is why I frequently run through a little informal prep session with my own sons. I check with them to hear if they are ready to answer questions with an expert they are about to meet for the first time. I check to see if they are also ready with their own list of questions to ask. I also prep them with how to respectfully, but assertively, redirect adults off of inappropriate topics when the adults have social difficulty staying to the topic of their expertise. Sometimes we will also run through possible scenarios where we discuss how to handle an adult who is extremely introverted. We also talk about scenarios of the other extreme: how to handle an adult who is so enjoying the rapt attention of my respectful child that he forgets to actually “teach” to the situation at hand.  All this respectful and balanced social engagement, instead of turning off adult experts, actually draws them in more into wanting to help a young person.

This teaching our children on how to respectfully engage authorities is one of the building blocks to talent success. This parental input makes a significant difference in the lives of our offspring. I encourage you to harness this social skill to teach your sons and daughters how to use in the context of the their talent growth. If you have an interesting story on how your child was able to use that social skill to win over an expert to helping them out, I would love for you to share it with me.

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(updated: 1/17/2015)