Ignite his primal cues

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.