How do we create a talent-goldmine ?

As part of the annual teacher’s conference at Vitus Bering Innovation Park, Rasmus Ankersen – a well-known speaker in Denmark – shares his experiences with talent development. Many interesting point of views were served to the audience; viewpoints that, without a doubt, are useful to businesses and entrepreneurs.

Rasmus Ankersen2

We have a tendency to reach a point in our career where we become comfortable. We are in a position where we can live up to the requirements of our position without having to renew ourselves. So why should we continue to develop? The truth is, however, that to become a world champion you have to keep challenging yourself and evaluate yourself.

It is obvious that Rasmus Ankersen has gained experience from the world of sports, as many of his colourful anecdotes are about the outstanding accomplishments of top athletes and their journey to success. However, there is no doubt that the knowledge he has gained through talent development of athletes can be transferred to the business world.

We experience that there are places in the world where talent is developed to such a degree that they have the largest concentration of elite athletes in the world. The interesting thing is that these places do not have the finest facilities, highly educated trainers or a solid economic foundation. On the contrary, you find these ‘goldmines’ in the middle of nowhere in Kenya, on a grass field in Jamaica or at a worn down tennis club in Moscow, says Rasmus Ankersen.

Self-training develops talent

Rasmus Ankersen quickly dispels the myth about talent being something you are born with. Talent is due to hunger and training! According to Rasmus Ankersen, the most effective form of talent development is self-training, which means that you constantly practice and evaluate yourself and your own performance – only in that way can you become the best:

A recent study of the world’s best violinists shows that each and everyone had spent more than 10,000 hours of deliberate self-training from when they began playing the violin. The less hours the violinists had spent on self-training, the less talented they were.

The same applies in the business world. If you are not constantly hungry for improvement, you will not become better. Here, Rasmus Ankersen refers to the ‘experience trap’:

Typically, after a certain number of years on the job market, you reach a point where you do well based on the experiences you have gained, and thus you don’t need to gain new experiences. You can do your job sufficiently on the basis of the knowledge, you have already gained.

You often see that companies fall victim of the experience trap, because the surroundings become too comfortable. The surroundings should not be designed for comfort, but for hard work:

I was dumbfounded, when I saw the training facilities that these world champions had. Their running track was a dirt road, and their equipment was completely out-dated. However, after talking to the coaches, I realised that these worn-out facilities were actually part of developing talent. The facilities were designed for hard work – not for being comfortable. You only trained here if you were 100% dedicated!

Limitations create innovation

It is not necessarily those with the best prerequisites who win. In fact, it is commonly known that the most effective problem solvers are those who work on the edge of their competencies, which Rasmus Ankersen elaborates here:

The people who solve problemsthe  best, are those who do not have enough knowledge to solve the problem, but enough to understand the problem.

When you are an expert, you often come to rely on the knowledge you already have. You don’t think beyond your area of expertise, and thus you think less innovatively. It turned out that all the ‘goldmines’ around the world had a ‘Godfather’ –a coach who realised the talents. Rasmus Ankersen1In all of these cases, the ‘Godfathers’ did not have prior experience within the world of sports. They had completely different backgrounds. For instance, the world’s leading coach in sprint, Stephen Francis, is a former statistician and has never run in his life.

Rasmus Ankersen refers to the concept known as ‘outsider intelligence’. Innovation comes from the outside, which is why, it is not always those with the finest educations that are most suited for creating innovative solutions. Besides the fact that the coaches are ‘outsiders’ it is also worth mentioning that the goldmines are characterised by limitations, which Rasmus Ankersen elaborates:

In the village in Kenya, there were no cars, bicycles or any other means of transportation. Therefore, it was completely natural that you ran in order to get from one destination to another. Everyone ran – old as young. Had they not had this limitation, they would not have been forced to think along those lines, and they would probably not have been developing as many top athletes as they have.

According to Rasmus Ankersen, it is limitations that create creativity and force people into a creative mind-set. A company such as Apple is known for using self-imposed limitations to make innovative solutions. If you are in a comfortable environment, you are not forced to give your best, which stops innovation and development of talent.

To answer the question; can we create a goldmine of talents, the answer is yes! But we have to search for the talent and change our mind-set. The most innovative software developer might not be the person with an IT diploma, but rather the person who dropped out of school and spends all his time in front of the computer, because he can’t help it! Moreover, after finding the talents, we also have to create the surroundings and limitations that keep people’s noses to the grindstone. That is the only way to continue to be successful once you have reached the top. At any rate, that is Rasmus Ankersen’s answer to how we create a goldmine of talents!