What creates great talent

Last Saturday I was talking to Tom last Saturday at my local sailing club. He had been a member of the club for 52 years. He had run the training programme for 37. And he told me proudly that he had in that time trained 5 to international level  in the Flying 15 class. And more than 10 who became competitors at the national level. As he left the bar one of the other members piped him off the quarterdeck – with an affectionate whistle. Clearly he has honorary Commodore status at the club.  How is it that one local club in a gravel pit an hour outside of London could generate so many outstanding performers?

This question was reinforced reading an article in the Week magazine by Matthew Syed about a single table tennis club in Reading had produced a string of national and international champions. The conclusion of the article was that talent was less about isolated talented individuals and more about giving people opportunity and putting them through a regime of training which meant they spent longer practicing which made them better performers. In the long run the 'talented' players didn't learn any faster than the untalented. They just spent longer doing it.

Mastery is not an individual issue. Xfactor is tiresome because it is less than truthful about how much work people have already done before they walk off the street and win that audition. But notice how much progress they make in a few weeks working with professionals. Companies bear a huge responsibility for how they develop their people. Trying to headhunt stars is an unpredictable and costly business. Better still to hire great trainers and people developers. Who can lift the performance of everyone in the team. Notice also that development takes time often long hours. And it takes focus. And yes you will lose people who are tempted by bumper salaries elsewhere. Building a strong training culture inside your company is still worth the trouble. Because the incremental performance comes from everybody not the lucky few you can afford to send on training courses. 



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