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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three steps of unfolding the talent - Inside out process


Anshuman, IIT, MBA, age 33 years, had been a successful corporate trainer for five years. When i met him a year back, he however told me that he has 'left' the field of training. I was surprised, because his 'skill' level was of  'high quality' and very refined. I believed that with some more years of practice, 'training skill' may become his talent. I also knew that Anshuman had worked for 5 years to acquire the necessary skills of training. When i asked him why he left corporate training, he said that ' I cannot work in an area which does not contribute anything meaningful to the human being or the company'. 
When i said that corporate training must be making a meaningful contribution, he said that it is not true. According to him , corporate training, because of its nature, is done to achieve 'number targets'. Participants, who come for training, treat training as a nice holiday. The minuscule participants who take training 'seriously' still do not benefit because they get no help in 'adapting' the lessons of the training in the real-work environment. In short, corporate training, benefits no one, according to Anshuman.  
What could have Anshuman done to avoid wasting his 5 years of life?

First step in talent building : Knowing what is required to produce the work-output 

The first step of 'talent' building is understanding what is required for the task ( in this case, corporate training). This step can be achieved through linear process of acquiring information and building a prototype task model. ( Of course, I also know of many youngsters who have taken more than 5 years in just deciding 'which task to focus on'.)

In this step, even books are useful, because they give you a preliminary list of 'inputs' and 'variables' that are required to achieve the task successfully. One has to however ensure that one must take up a book that 'suits' one's background.  If you are, for instance, a stock broker like Harshad Mehta, you cannot read a book of Nicholas Taleb or Warren Buffet, to build your ' prototype task model' of stock-broking !

This step is uni-directional and can be achieved by the sheer force of Will. It is completely in the realm of left brain. It is time-bound whose results can be predicted with sufficient degree of accuracy.

Second step of talent building: Using deliberate practice to excel in the task 

The second step of talent building, as we have seen earlier, is the process of reality-testing the task model. Once, Anshuman decided that he has to become a master corporate trainer, he had to carefully 'test' his 'task model of training' using different variables and inputs. Whenever he conducted a training, he carefully set the 'experiment' to decide 'which elements' is he testing. Through this reality-testing, he slowly discovered that the variable of 'understanding the background of participants and their context' significantly determines the impact of 'training quality'. He also discovered that 'small actions' taken at the 'end of training session' gives a big feeling of satisfaction to the participants.

This second step effectively determines the 'quality and robustness' of your task model and therefore decides  if your intention of developing your talent will become a 'reality' or not. We discussed some of the ideas of Dr. Anders Ericsson ( who is perhaps the only authority who has researched a lot on this step) in the blog of 'how to make experience count. If the task is highly complex, like management of a technological company or a function ( visavis the management of a small shop or even a retail mall), this step can be quite difficult and time consuming.

We however know some of the characteristics of this step. Because the 'output' of the task model is visible only to the person who is performing the 'task', it demands 'self awareness' to undertake this step. One needs to identify and isolate 'emotion' so that one is not misled in making a wrong conclusion. The success of this reality-testing is partly in the hands of left brain ( self awareness) as well as the right-brain (understanding oneself). One needs to keep the left brain in check ( because left brain believes it can manipulate and control anything) and listen to the new inputs of right brain, instead of rationalising them. The result from this step is partly in control of one's direct actions ( left brain**) and partly determined by what is happening in other aspects of your life ( right brain **). 

Third step of talent building: Making the task part of yourself 

In this step, if the skill has to grow further, the 'skill' has to become 'part' of the individual. Corporate training has to become part of Anshuman. The skill has to become part of your whole. It therefore has to become 'meaningful' to the individual. Without becoming 'meaningful', Ashuman cannot enjoy the process of doing the same task of corporate training again and again and do it 'in a refreshingly different way'. Imagine the amount of effort that Sachin Tendulkar had to take to keep on playing cricket every day ( and build his talent) to remain at the top for 20 years!

This is the step where Anshuman faltered. When Anshuman rightfully applied this test to his 'skill' of corporate training after 5 years, he found that 'corporate training' is 'meaningless' to him. Please remember that someone else can find corporate training 'meaningful'. When someone finds 'meaning' in some task, then it does not  remain a 9 to 5 task for him. It becomes part of his whole life. It changes him. The task goes in the blood. Like Sachin Tendulkar says 'Cricket is in my blood'. Without finding cricket 'meaningful' in his life, Sachin Tendulkar could not have played the same game for 20 year and remained at the top.  When you find your talent zone, because it is meaningful to your life, life is full of boundless energy and passion. So what determines 'what is meaningful'?

'Finding meaning in something' is not a left brain sequential process. It is in the realm of your right brain **. And therefore, it is not in your control. Right brain outcomes like satisfaction, meaningfulness, happiness cannot be achieved directly by Will. They are typically the by-products of some other actions, of the way you live life.

These right-brain ** outcomes depend on the loosely-knit process that is occurring outside the effort of 'skill building'. It is a process of clarifying aspirations, understanding and 'resolving' the conflicts in the values one holds and method of closing the gaps that the 'reality' confronts. It is a process of viewing the world in a way that cannot be manipulated or engineered. This process therefore consumes time. We know that this process can be helped by a mentor/coach, or it can be hastened if one encounters 'difficult situations' like death and failure. In short this process, even if it can be guided, cannot be controlled. It is therefore called unfolding, not building. And this is why we say 'talent unfolds' not 'builds'!

If you had known the process of unfolding, how could you have helped Anshuman? You could have probably helped Anshuman 'explicitly' articulate the 'meaning of contribution' that was implicit in his mind and made him see that 'corporate training' cannot be his 'talent zone'. This could have taken some time, because it cannot be done easily, but it could have still saved him at least 4 years of life, if not 5 years? Or you could have clarified his values and helped Anshuman 'contribute meaningfully' through 'training' without doing corporate training? This could have helped Anshuman capitalise on his experience of training, without sacrificing his values. In the realm of values, beliefs and meanings, there are various options that get 'discovered' because every individual is different.

In short, the right-brain process cannot be put in back burner, because left-brain process is busy acquiring skill, money and reputation? Sooner or later, left brain has to catch up with the outcomes of right brain. Left brain surprisingly 'listens' to the dictats of right brain, even though it is damaging to the person's career ( like Anshuman's decision of leaving corporate training seems non-sensical!) But i have seen many individuals like Anshuman who get surprised by the outcomes of right-brain, because they have left it unattended. I always therefore suggest that one should start working on the right brain process' as soon as possible. Do not wait for it to catch up? Let us see what you can do in the next blog.

** Right brain and left brain distinctions have been done on the basis of research of Ian Mcgilchrist. His book The master and his emissary provides all the details.