Articles From the Team
There’s no such thing as talent
I don’t know about you but I am feeling a little void in my life following the end of the Olympics in Rio. For the last few weeks I have marvelled and watched in awe at the sporting brilliance, endurance and sheer guts and determination of athletes from around the world. So what happens when it is all over? 4 years (and for some many more) of hard work, sacrifice and pain for that one shot at gold. If you win, you achieve the ultimate accolade, becoming a gold medal winning Olympian. If you lose – you are still an Olympian, you have competed on the worlds’ highest stage, but how do you feel, what do you do next?
According to Matthew Syed - http://www.matthewsyed.co.uk/, author of “Bounce” success has nothing to do with “raw talent”. Instead, Syed claims that high performance is related to environment, opportunities and practice. He talks about how many athletes, after achieving their goal, feel empty and lost. In particular he uses the example of Olympic cyclist, Victoria Pendleton, who said that finishing second was almost a better feeling that winning. Second meant that there was still more for her to achieve, a clear direction for her to move towards, whereas winning meant – what’s next?Pendleton is a great example of moving on to the next challenge, as she is now competing in professional horse racing.
Syed references a number of other works in his book – Anders Ericsson, author of making of an expert https://hbr.org/2007/07/the-making-of-an-expert and Daniel Coyle, author of the talent code http://thetalentcode.com/author/. These experts all talk about the concept of 10,000 hours of practice to make an expert or high performer. So if you want to be a great golfer and you practice for 10,000 hours you will be an expert golfer? Well no, it is not quite that simple! The practice, according to Syed needs to purposeful, focussed and structured – think Johnny Wilkinson practising conversion kicks on the pitch, going home and watching re-runs of his practice on video, then going back to the field the next day with his coach. It is all about getting things wrong and using feedback to learn from those mistakes. So whilst the headline figure of “10,000 hours” is meaningful, much more importantly is how the practice is done.
For the non-sports fans out there, here is another example. I love baking and particularly enjoy baking cakes. I could bake cakes for 10,000 hours over the course of my lifetime but will never become an expert baker. However the amateur bakers on the Great British Bake Off (great to have it back on TV!) demonstrate over the course of show, how meaningful practice can improve their performance and skills beyond recognition. They start of the show as decent bakers, by the end, the one crowned victorious could easily compete against professionals and hold their own.
So what can we learn from this? How can we emulate it in our careers? Think about what it is you would like to achieve in your career. Have you got the right support structure in place to help you focus on your goals? If not, maybe it is time to reassess.
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