Michael Jackson and Deep Learning

by marilyn on June 30, 2009

My appreciation of Michael Jackson has grown more since his death than in life. I spent the weekend obsessively watching program after program about the phenomenon of Michael Jackson. His music never appealed much to me — or so I thought– but even I, who missed a few decades of music while raising kids, knew the legendary “moon walk” and could appreciate his talent.

Like most phenomena, what he did looked effortless for him, and impossible for the rest of us, which is the stuff of which admiration –even worship– is made. What few people knew– and I learned by watching all those documentaries of his life– was that Michael was an instinctive follower of what Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How., calls “deep practice.”  “Deep practice,” states Coyle, is  key to building myelin, the magical substance that surrounds our nerve pathways to and helps embed learning in our systems.

As a child, it is alleged, Michael practiced under the threat of punishment by his dad. As an adult, that morphed into his own perfectionism. He would, according to old interviews, practice routines for hours and hours by himself (no band, no dancers)  to make those moves his own. When I watched those old videos, I noticed the dancers were dancing extremely well but Michael, was dancing “in the zone.”

Why does this interest me now? As a Master Certified Coach (M.C.C.), I want to be a true Master coach, i.e. a master at coaching others to their greatness. The Master coach, according to Daniel Coyle. has four virtues — knowledge, perceptiveness, “GPS reflex” guidance, and “theatrical” honesty. The coach must ignite the flame (or keep it going once ignited) and the client needs to do the rest through deep practice.

Michael knew how to use coaches. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and hired the best to help him get there–  Quincy Jones (Billy Jean), Martin Scorcese (Thriller), George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, to name a few.

I’m an amateur artist. As a teenager at a prestigious NYC public school for music and art, my spirit squashed by a combination of little real direction and the careless comment of a painting teacher who described a hand in a portrait I was working on as looking like “death.”  I had to spend a week doing yoga and painting 25 years later to shed Miss Sherman’s negativity.  My yoga/painting teacher had us finger paint (some of us  even used our feet) and paint with our eyes closed to loosen up, but she also talked about looking for dark, light and middle values, showed us how to compare tones by poking two holes a half inch apart in a piece of white paper, and gave us honest, real (vs. harsh) critiques. A good coach– a Master– shows you the essential supplier for your journey down your path, helps you remove unnecessary obstacles, encourages you when the path gets tricky, and, of course, holds you accountable.

Out of that sometimes genius emerges, at other times the accomplishment of something previously unattainable, and at other times, you simply get where you want to go faster and more easily. Michael didn’t invent the moonwalk. He simply perfected it and made it his own!

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