It was 4.30 on a cold and wet morning and I was choking on the
stench of thick layers of years old grease behind the deep fat
fryer and I was ecstatically happy as I scrubbed and cleaned the
once white tiles back to their original gleaming brightness.
It was my first day on my first proper job and I would soon be
delegating this filthy work to some other poor sap who similarly
wanted to become a chef de cuisine. In the meantime, my job was to
scrub, peel, haul, carry, chop, clear and clean it all up
The head cook (for in the mid 1970’s we had few “Chef’s” as that
was far too French and suggestive of “haute cuisine”) had agreed to
take me under her wing and teach me how to prepare the only famous
dish to come from England and clogged the arteries of its working
classes: The Great British Breakfast.
Putting talent in perspective
Talent is often misunderstood. Business leaders are obsessed
with finding it, keeping it and banking their succession on it.
They recruit the top students from the best universities, promote
them quickly, reward them lavishly and label them as talent. Then
there is surprise at the realisation that:
- More than half the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies averaged a C
- And more than 50% of the world’s millionaire entrepreneurs
never finished college
Let me clarify, I am not anti-talent. I believe that we should
seek our talent and we should put it to work. But talent alone, is
not the answer to leadership succession, productivity and a growing
Everyone has talent
I was 15 years old as I crouched behind that deep fat fryer and
about to discover my talent but first I had to serve my time and
observe Mrs Brown at her work as closely as possible whilst
simultaneously keeping out of the way of her sharp knives and even
Once allowed, I soon mastered the fry-up served with tea and
slices of Hovis with thick butter. I was cocky with my demonstrated
obvious talent, but was soon cut by Mrs Brown’s sharp tongue as she
“Anyone can cook. It’s just that not everyone should.”
Her simple wisdom is true in all walks of life: Today, watch any
“talent” show on TV and you’ll find plenty of contestants who would
do well to follow Mrs Brown’s advice in their own dream pursuit.
Anyone can sing, but not everyone should.
So how do you know if you should?
It’s not simply a case of doing something, it’s doing something
exceptionally well and enjoying doing it. That’s an “and” not an
“or”. I knew that I thoroughly enjoyed cooking but it takes others
to tell you if you do it exceptionally well. When you find out what
that is, then you’ve found your talent. And everyone has something
that they do exceptionally well and thoroughly enjoying doing.
Develop the talent you have, not the one you want
When I ask if you know what your talent is, you may struggle to
identify it. You may not be an exceptional musician or artist,
actor or even a sports person. These are the types of things we
traditionally associate with the word “talent”. You may think I’m
referring to your job. It could be and I hope that your job does
enable you to use your talent, but the chances are that you are
unsure, and probably too humble to realise that you really do have
talent. But I can assure you that you do.
The 10,000 hour rule
Malcolm Gladwell based his 10000 hour rule in his book Outliers
on a study by Anders Ericson that it takes 10000 hours of
deliberate practice to become great at something. Such ‘greatness’
is often confused with the “talent” that enables it. For your
talent is rarely manifest as something great, usually, your talent
is actually something pretty mundane. Well, at least to you it is
mundane. It is something that you “just do”. But where do you start
on your 4 year journey to greatness?
Whenever we undertake something new we start as an enthusiastic
beginner. You donât know what you donât know as you steadily try
this new thing. You make mistakes. You correct them and make more
mistakes until at last you become competent at this new thing.
After a while (perhaps 2000 hours of trial and error and
practice) you realise that there’s more that you donât know than
you do know. You are competent in this new activity and know that
you donât know it all yet. Many many people give up at this point.
This is when discipline and disillusion crash head on. A rare few
let discipline win the battle and deliberately practice through
this painful period for another 2000 hours. Most people quit and
chase another shiny object or simply accept that they will never be
masters of this particular game.
If we have continued and learned and practiced after another
couple thousand hours we know what we know and we are very
deliberate about practice and cautious not to mess up. The
enthusiasm wanes and frequently get frustrated knowing that we’re
just short of perfection and how much more practice will it take
before this is just effortless? Perhaps another 4000 hours.
For those who persevere and keep on keeping on, there comes a
day when you find that greatness has happened. Everything went
brilliantly with your new skill and suddenly you realise that you
didnât think about it at all. It just happened. You have practiced
long enough and hard enough that now, your talent is manifest in
this particular skill. You’ve been doing this for so long now that
you have forgotten how you do it. Will you still make mistakes. Of
course you will, but mistakes donât really bother you now, you just
do it again and get it right. How? You’re just doing it.
How can you shortcut the 10000 hour rule?
There’s a recent meta-study at
Princeton that refutes the 10000 hour rule suggesting that
deliberate practice makes a positive performance variance of just
26% in games and a mere one percent in professional activities. But
that does not mean you can develop greatness without any practice –
it has more to do with the predictability of the activities and
thus if they can even be effectively measured.
So how much practice do we need?
If you work on a ‘natural’ ability or great strength you already
have, then surely you can significantly reduce the time you need to
become great at it.
But what if my ‘talent’ has nothing to do with my job?
It may not be obvious to you at all, but if you are actually
good at your job, I suspect that you are using your talent, or at
least a part of the way you do your talent.
And if not. Then it’s about identifying your talent and leveraging
this into your desired activity.
Add value to your talent
The fantastic news about finding your talent within your
strengths is that your talent can be leveraged. That is, you can
use your talent in another area of your work and life to add value
to another area. You can also combine your talent with those of
other people to add value to each other.
When you leverage you talent to another area in your life,
you’ll then do something else exceptionally well and thoroughly
enjoy doing it.
When you leverage your talent with those of others, together
you’ll create something innovative and powerful and you’ll all do
it exceptionally well and thoroughly enjoy doing it.
Talent is not enough
A few years after my work at the greasy spoon with Mrs Brown, I
was privileged to work in the kitchen of one of England’s finest
and talented chefs. I wonât mention his name because whilst he was,
without doubt, one of the most talented chef’s in the world, he was
also one of the most obnoxious, unpleasant, mean and egotistical
gits I have ever had the misfortune to meet. A tiny mistake would
bring the roar of shame, a second’s delay could result in a slap
and a split hollandaise could find a knife flying through the air
intent on pinning you to the wall.
I learned all I could before, like every other sous chef before
me and afterwards, quitting and finding a less temperamental and
much safer environment to develop my skills.
It often seems to be that the greater the talent, the more ego that
goes along with it. So we need to be a little different. We want to
develop our talent whilst simultaneously taming our ego. Making
sure that we maintain a good, respectful and positive attitude.
Treating others well and listening to others with a keen
understanding and empathy. We need to remain teachable and accept
that just because we have talent does not make us God’s gift to
humankind. Remain teachable and courageous and fan the flames of
your passion and deliberately doing the right thing even when would
be easier to take a shortcut.
Talent is rarely obvious
If you would like to explore this together I suspect that you’ll
be in for a surprise. It’s not that you donât know your talent,
it’s that you probably donât know that you know. That is, your
talent is something unconscious. It’s something you “just do”.
Indeed, those words are the ones I most often hear as I help them
explore their talent: “I just do it.” It is something that is so
ingrained that you have turned a conscious process into an
unconscious one, a habit if you prefer. And that habit may seem to
have nothing whatsoever to do with the task in handâ¦ apparently
You see, my talent is not, as I suspect you are thinking,
cooking. No, my talent is algebra.
I’ll explain more as we progress, but for now, let’s focus on
you and start a journey of self-discovery that could well cause you
to do everything exceptionally well and thoroughly enjoy doing
If you would like to find and understand your talent and how you
can leverage your talent in your job, or some other part of your
life, you can sign up for a special email course I have developed
to help you find and leverage your talent.
I’ll guide you on a journey to find your STORY. It’s completely
free of charge for AdvantEdge VIP members. You’ll receive a series
of emails from me taking you through the steps. You do the work.
It’s not laborious work, but it will take some time and effort on
your part. There are no instant solutions for you. It’s not an
assessment and you will write about you and your life. You donât
need to share your findings or writing with me or anyone else, but
you can if you want to do so.
Are you ready to uncover your talents and leverage them so that
you thoroughly enjoy everything you do, and do everything well?