Nurturing Innate Talent



Very often we hear about someone having great potential, gifted abilities, highly talented, future star, etc.  Are such natural abilities by themselves, enough to take the person to the top in that field?  Or is something else necessary for nurturing innate talent and bring it to full bloom?

Coaching, mentoring and even parenting are some forms of leadership.  Effective leaders in such roles understand the 80/20 concept as it relates to potential.  Consider the two contrasting images below:

Innate talent

Innate talent

Scenario 1:

In this case, the person possesses rare talent in abundance.  This is intrinsic, natural, gifted ability which not many people have.  Consider athletic prowess, suppleness of body, a rare ability to do math or the power to grasp complex concepts.

Such abilities, although rare, are not sufficient by themselves to propel the possessor to excellence or to the top in those fields.

Certain other things are required to embellish these talents.  These are not limited to:

    a.      Structured, well-directed practice

    b.      Conscious understanding of gaps and how to fill them

    c.       Perseverance on filling the gaps

    d.      Fine-tuning abilities

    e.      Understanding what it takes to reach the top (rules of the game, understanding how tests are conducted, etc.)

    f.        Awareness of the extent and abilities of the competition

Athletic abilities certainly fit this model.  Consider Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.  You could consider his raw boxing abilities and strength as the 80%.  However, without the 20% contribution of his manager, would Rocky have become the champion?

Consider the gifted student that can do math quite easily.  This is the intrinsic ability that is sufficient to get the child into top grades in school.  But in order to get admitted into MIT or get perfect scores in the GRE exam, the student needs to dig in and persevere with some stuff not related necessarily to math, such as:

    a.      Proper practice, using a work-book (instead of reading math!).

    b.      Consistent practice every day at schedule times.

    c.       Use of proper straight-backed chair stationed in the same place (instead of slouching on the couch).

    d.      Well-directed practice, with analysis at every step.  Analysis should include the ones that the student gets incorrect, as well as the ones that the student gets correct.

    e.      Understanding the structure of the tests, the method of scoring and exactly what is being tested.  In exams such as GMAT, the math tested is quite simple.  What is tested is accuracy under severe time constraints.  For such initiatives, the student needs to devise and practice specific strategies, which have nothing to do with math.

The good thing is that these steps above can be built easily.  The intrinsic ability or potential is the rare factor. 

It can be argued that from the student’s perspective these are more difficult.  But then again, it all comes down to discipline and how badly the student wants to excel.

Scenario 2:

In this case, the person is driven, methodical, highly persevering and puts in great hours at well-directed practice.  In other words, the person has got the 80% coachable, discipline part down.

It is the elusive 20% that the interviewer, audience or judge that is looking for, which is rare and non-coachable.

Consider the example of a few candidates that make it to the final round of interviewing at McKinsey, Google, Amazon or other top companies.

Before the final interview, there is really very little to choose amongst these candidates.  They have all practiced their cases to perfection, gotten their qualifications to the required level, are all highly driven and are at the top of their game.

Yet, not all of them are selected.  One, perhaps two gets the offer letter.

What is it that was missing in the candidates that did not get the offer letter?

This example can also be extended to fields such as Hollywood cinema, other arts and music.

In the artist that is propelled to stardom, the public or audience sense something very appealing which simply cannot be coached or practiced.

Thoughts for effective leaders to consider

As effective leaders, whenever you judge talent, whether it is for assembling a team for your project/mission or for grooming future leaders, consider the industry or activity in this context.

Does it belong to the first scenario, in which case you need to find out how to fill the 20% gap?  Or does it belong to the second scenario in which case you should see who has the elusive 20% that could decide between successful or average result?

This is a very interesting concept and one that just cannot be generalized.  For each case there will be something different.   I hope this raises some thoughts in your minds and I would gladly like to hear from you.  Please use the comments section below to voice your thoughts.

Image: (c); author: Anssi Koskinen

Innate Talent Infographic: (c) Kay Leadership Academy