Tag Archives: discovering our talents

What We Have Not What We Don’t!

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still fight daily) is the idea that others know more than me, especially in areas where I am dubbed an expert.

I think a lot of it goes back to when I was younger, especially in my teen years where, although I was in the top set at school there were those around me who were like a cerebrum on legs: they oozed ability, knowledge and were more concerned with where they’d lost two or three marks in their exams than with where they’d gained them!

The problem with hanging out with these guys wasn’t anything to do with their personalities: most of them were really great people to be around.  It was the toll that it all took on my self-confidence and self-esteem.  My mind had a field day, reinforcing all those doubts that had ever dared to enter my thinking, or had been placed there by others.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I was forced to go back and revisit these difficult and confusing times when recovering from serious illness.  During the long, slow, often painful process that was called recovery I was forced (in the nicest way possible) to see these things in their true perspective and identify the lies that I had taken on-board and made an integral part of my life and psyche.

One of the biggest mistakes I had made was when I started looking at my abilities in comparison to others.  We live in a competitive world where we are continually compared to others BUT there is no need for us to do it to ourselves.  When we go for a new job, invariably our skill sets, talents and background will be compared to those of others competing for the same job.  That is the interviewer’s job. 

HOWEVER, we want to be at our best in those situations, showing others our true self and abilities. 

If we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do as well as others, then we will never see our own unique talents; our own unique skills and the things that we CAN bring to the table that others can’t. 

Here’s a couple of examples from my own life that may help:

  • When I left school, I went straight to university but was so clueless and dispirited about what I wanted to/could do that I gave up after a term (though I did return with my first drum kit … but that is another story!).  I worked for 3 years and then decided that I would go back to studying as I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to go (and where I couldn’t go at that time without a degree).  I entered the first year of my degree expecting to be worse than the fresh young things entering straight after their A-levels.  I looked to the brightest of them for encouragement and help but I was always aware in my own mind that I wasn’t as good as them.  That was confirmed in my exams at the end of the year.  For some reason and I still don’t know why, I decided over the Summer holidays that I would really work for myself and make sure that I understood what I was doing.  This meant re-learning a lot of what I’d not learnt very well during my first year.  The second year was different.  Nothing changed in my ability to work with others, but my internal focus was now on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.  I really WANTED to learn and understand to the best of MY abilities.  I came top of the year in my second year exams, something I could never have dreamed of.  I wasn’t the brightest on paper (my A-level results wer mediocre at best) but my focus had changed and I’d achieved my potential (albeit with a lot of hard work).  I passed my degree with a higher grade than I would ever have expected and then went on to higher study.  The point I’m trying to encourage you with is that if we look at ourselves it’s very easy to see what we lack.  But we have so much to offer that others don’t, and others rarely see the failings in ourselves that we do!  I’m definitely not trying to propose some self-help mantra but I am suggesting that a change of focus can bring a change of attitude and facilitate us reaching our fuller potential. 
  • Another example was when I was working as a member of a Medical Department’s clinical research team in the pharmaceutical industry.  I knew some of my strengths:  people skills, patience, generally up-beat and good to be around etc.  But, it took several years of working with the Dark Side, i.e., members of the Marketing Department, to really bring my core skills to the fore.  Medical Departments generally work to a dinosaur type time-scale; it takes a long time to design, set-up, run, and report clinical trials.  Marketing work very much in the here and now and want results today (or yesterday if possible). Initially I worked to set-up a Medical-Marketing Interface, a group of people from both departments who could get together on a regular basis to discuss what their priorities were at that time, what they were for the next year and the reality of what information was likely to become available or be wanted in that time.  These were not easy meetings but they gradually evolved into a broader set of discussion forums that really helped the two departments work together more effectively.  They opened the way for more constructive interaction rather than shooting at each other from the parapets.  Through them there was also much closer collaboration in the construction of sales and marketing literature and this is where I discovered something that had probably been obvious but I’d never seen it!  My personal ‘gem’ was an ability to make complex and highly technical scientific and medical ideas easy to understand by all, including those from a non-technical and non-scientific background.  This did two things: a) It boosted my confidence; I did have something special to offer and b) it paved the way for my last role in corporate business, that of communicating and building professional relationships with members of the medical and research communities and providing fora in which we could openly discuss  data supporting the use of specific drugs in difficult-to-treat-conditions.  It was also interesting that when I left my job, many of the most moving ‘good-bye’ messages came from these same people.

It took me a long time to realise that it’s not always simply how much we know, it’s a lot more to do with recognising our own skills and talents, developing and using these to the best of our abilities, whilst never missing the opportunity to hear what others are saying about us.  As we refine our path, we will be amazed at what we have to offer and as with my university exams, we may just move from being one of the crowd to being a leader. 

Even if we don’t, I can guarantee that you’ll feel so much better about yourself and be more confident with what you can offer.

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Creativity: The Other Global Crisis

Perhaps one of the most eloquent and engaging speakers I have heard is Sir Ken Robinson. he has this style which instantly puts one at ease whilst totally drawing us in to what he has to say. If you want an example, pour yourself a coffee and Watch Ken Robinson Talk to see him in action (opens in a new window … use the ‘Close Window’ button after viewing).

In one of his more recent appearances he continued to present some uncomfortable facts which will impact us all unless things change. Here is a sample of out-takes from his talk. Full article here (opens in a new window).

  • The world is facing a crisis of human resources … “I believe that fundamentally we have both underestimated and continue to misuse – if not actually abuse – many of our most important talents; our talents, our children’s talents, and the talents of the people who work with us. And unless we fix [this crisis], I feel we’re not going to make much progress fixing the other one.”
  • Both crises are the result of our “industrial mindset,” which is incompatible with modern society and modern business. Both manifest themselves in terms of imbalances. In the natural world it is the imbalance of gases in our atmosphere, although human activity is also disrupting many other ecosystems. In society we have legions of people dislocated from their own talents, legions of people suffering from all kinds of anxiety, legions of people in dysfunctional communities. And there is an enormous cost of handling this.
  • In California (Robinson’s new home town) spends $3.5bn a year on the state university system; it spends $9.9bn on the state prison system. Similar figures exist for other Western countries, as well as other US states. The UK spends millions of pounds a year on remedial education, to try to get kids through a system which many of them are bucking against. And we spend millions of pounds a year on career counselling, because people have not found their way.
  • The result for educators, employers and HR professionals is that it is vital to have an understanding of “the ecology of human resources.
  • As a society, we must improve our understanding of human capabilities. We believe mistakenly that creativity and intelligence vary in inverse proportion to one another. The things we take for granted as being true are the real problem; the enemy of making the best of ourselves is common sense.
  • Thankfully creativity is not dead but merely latent, in most adults.
  • Work by Land and Jarman showed that in a smaple of 1,500 children aged 3-5, 98% ranked as “geniuses” in divergent thinking. In children aged between 8 and 10 years the figure fell to just 32% and by the time children had reached between 13 and 15 years it had declined further to a mere 10%. In other words, children become less creative as they grow older. What coincides with this period of development, aside from hormonal changes and socialisation, is that they enter formal education where they have learnt a) there is one answer to every question, b) don’t look, because that’s cheating and c) don’t copy from anybody else, because that’s cheating too … even though outside of school we call this collaboration.
  • This mindset goes well beyond school and college. Land and Jarman also performed a control test of two-thousand adults (aged 25+) where only 2% ranked as geniuses. We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, because of the ways in which we become institutionalised and socialised. Education is a big piece of this, but work is an even bigger piece.
  • Creativity is most frequently associated, in the workplace, with innovation but it is equally important in helping society cope with, and harness, technological advances. No matter what we do or where we do it, technology is going to swamp us: new information systems are going to subvert all the things we take for granted.
  • The over-25s think we’re OK, but we’re not that great. We have learnt digital technology like a second language, so we kind of speak phrasebook digital compared with our children. IT systems are becoming more and more pervasive, but they’re not fundamentally avoiding the powerful need for better and better use of human resources. To the contrary. Human resource is the only way we can engage with these things properly … and at this moment we are locked into an industrial mindset about our own capabilities.
  • Business people can help to nurture creativity and imagination by thinking of organisations as organisms rather than organisations A better metaphor is from agriculture. A farmer can’t make a plant grow. A plant grows itself. A good farmer provides the conditions for growth. And a great plant doesn’t just grow from the top, it grows everywhere simultaneously, as do healthy organisations, which have a reciprocating relationship among the parts.
  • There is a huge difference between a creative team and a committee: great creative teams require real expertise among managers and leaders to work. It’s a skill-set that we need to be teaching managers and leaders.
  • Great teams, large or small, are deliberately diverse: they have people from different backgrounds, experiences, ages and responsibilities in the organisation. The processes employed by these teams ensure that their diversity is not an impediment but a resource.
    The best senior managers are those who are not afraid to let teams congregate for specific tasks and then disband, to form other teams as necessary, perhaps one of the best ways to spread cultural information around the organisation.
  • It is essential to create the right habitat, in terms of culture and environment. Anyone who is serious about making more of people must be serious about the environment in which they work. And not just the colour of the walls: innovative organisations have a rigorous approach to questioning algorithms of behaviour and changing the environment as need be.
    Challenging stuff.

What I think is obvious is that we have a long way to go. BUT we need to make a start, no matter how small to change the inertia of creative decline. and just perhaps some of our organisations and social structures will be rebuilt into healthy living cultures.

Until next time …

 
My Zimbio

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