I recently read a book titled ‘Talent is Never Enough’, written by John C. Maxwell (buy it online at Kalahari.net or Amazon.co.uk). In this book the author emphasises the truth that talent is often overrated and frequently misunderstood. A common error made by people standing on the sideline, is accrediting an individual’s great accomplishments to talent alone. The book reminds us that this view is, in most cases false and misleading. After all, if talent alone were enough, why are there so many talented people who are not highly successful?
Business leaders the world over are obsessed with the term talent, many of these leaders think talent is the answer to all of their problems. Author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell, notes that many companies and consultants put finding people with talent ahead of everything else. Gladwell believes this talent mindset is the new orthodoxy of American management.
In Maxwell’s book, he quotes Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, saying “there seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, his imagination, or his knowledge. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results”. By themselves, these qualities set limits to what can be achieved. If talent were enough, then the most effective and influential people would always be the most talented ones. But this is often not the case. To emphasise his point, Maxwell unpacks statistics that show that:
• More than 50% of all CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies had C averages in college
• 65% of all US senators came from the lower half of their school classes
• 75% of US presidents were in the bottom half club in school
• More than 50% of millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college
To put talent into perspective Maxwell recognises the contribution that highly talented people make to society, pointing out that the toughest thing about success is keeping on being a success. He says that talent is only a starting point in one’s business and personal life, adding that you’ve got to keep working at your talent.
Maxwell also asserts that everyone has talent and while people have equal value, they do not have equal giftedness. While some people are just blessed with a multitude of talents, the greater majority have less of these innate abilities. That said, everyone has something they can do well and individuals should strive to develop the talents they have and not the talents they wish they were in possession of. The combination of a person’s key choices coupled with natural ability is what sets them apart from those who rely on talent alone.
Maxwell identifies 13 crucial choices that individuals can make – choices that will enable them to maximise their talent and become talent plus people.
1. Belief lifts your talent: The first and greatest obstacle to success for most people is the lack of belief in themselves. Individuals need to figure out where their sweet spot is (the area where they are most gifted), because what usually hinders them isn’t lack of talent but a lack of trust in themselves, which is a self-imposed limitation. Being short of self-belief can act as a ceiling on talent. When people believe in themselves, they unleash power in themselves and are better able to use resources around them. This immediately takes them to a higher talent plus level. An individual’s potential is represented as a picture of what one can become. Belief helps one see the picture and reach for it.
2. Passion energises your talent: Passion is more important than the plan. Passion creates fire. It provides fuel. As long as the passion is there, it doesn’t matter if someone fails. It doesn’t matter how many times they fall down. Passion keeps people going and makes the most of what talent someone possesses.
3. Initiative activates your talent: Talent plus people don’t wait for everything to be perfect to move forward. These people don’t wait for problems or obstacles to disappear or until fear subsides. They take initiative. There is a secret that good leaders understand; momentum is a friend. As soon as they take that first step and start moving forward, things become a little easier. If the momentum gets strong enough, many problems take care of themselves and talent can take over. But it starts only after a person takes those first steps.
4. Focus directs your talent: Focus does not come naturally to everyone, yet it is essential to people who want to make the most of their talent. Having talent without focus is like being an octopus on roller skates. There will be plenty movement, but one won’t know in which direction it will be. Talent with focus directs a person and has the potential to take them places.
5. Preparation positions your talent: Being unprepared puts you out of position. Preparation positions people correctly, and is often the distinction between winning and losing. Talent plus people are people who prepare well and live by the mantra; “all is well that begins well”.
6. Practice sharpens your talent: It is a fact that a person only plays at the level at which he practices. Consistently good practice leads to consistently good play. Successful people understand this as they value practice and develop the discipline to do. Four words sum up what positions the most successful individuals above and beyond the crowd: “a little bit more”. Successful people pay their dues and do all that is expected of them plus a little bit more.
7. Perseverance sustains your talent: Perseverance is not an issue of talent. It is not an issue of time. It is about finishing. Talent provides hope for accomplishments, but perseverance guarantees it. Playwright Noel Coward commented, “thousands of people have talent. I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head. But the one and only thing that counts is: do you have staying power?”
8. Courage tests your talent: People think of courage as a quality required only in times of extreme danger or stress, such as during a war or when attacked. It is much larger than this and more prevalent in a person’s day-to-day life than we think. Courage is an everyday virtue. Professor, writer, and apologist CS Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point”. You can do nothing worthwhile without courage. A person who exhibits courage is often able to live without regrets.
9. Teachability expands your talent: Teach-ability is not so much about competence and mental capacity as it is about attitude. It is the desire to listen, learn, and apply. It is the hunger to discover and grow. It is the willingness to learn, and learn and relearn.
10. Character protects your talent: Many people with talent make it into the limelight, but the ones who have neglected to develop a strong character rarely stay there long. The absence of strong character eventually topples talent. When it comes to talent, everything is not always as it seems to be to the casual observer. Sometimes what appears to be a huge success isn’t. And in time the truth will come out; character protects against that.
11. Relationships influence your talent: Nothing will influence talent as much as the important relationships in one’s life. When one surrounds one’s self with people who add value and encourage, talent will grow in a positive direction. If one spends time with people who constantly drain, lead in the wrong direction or knock a person down, it will be almost impossible for talent to take flight. People can trace the successes and failures in their lives to the most significant relationships.
12. Responsibility strengthens your talent: Nothing adds muscle to talent like responsibilities. It lifts talent to a new level and increases its stamina. The one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take responsibility. If an individual desires success, they must make responsibility a choice.
13. Teamwork multiplies your talent: It doesn’t matter how talented a person is a person still has ‘gaps’; the things they don’t do well. So, what’s the best way to handle weakness? Partner with others who have strengths in those areas. To do something really big, do it as part of a team. Maxwell encourages individuals to make these choices, and become talent plus people. According to Maxwell if a person has talent, they stand alone. But if a person has talent plus, they stand out.
I personally found the book to be an encouraging read. It is relevant to my own journey and well worth the investment of time needed to complete it. ‘Talent is Never Enough’ is available at most book stores. Or buy it online at Kalahari.net or Amazon.co.uk.