Talent: Do we have enough?

Do you consider talent to be a finite resource possessed by a few fortunate individuals? What if it was a limitless potential that could be evoked intentionally through engaging in particular practices? Furthermore, what if people could learn the skill of evoking talent in others?

The actuality is that some people do release new power in themselves. In addition, we recognise that certain leaders and teachers are indeed able to call forth a new way of responding in others. We call this being inspirational! A colleague, Dr Piergiulio Poli, and I decided to undertake some action-research to identify how talent is developed, with the aim of being able to make the process replicable.

We began by defining what we meant by talent, which we saw as being the ability to do something that is both difficult and valuable (to the self and to others). We explored how the process of developing that ability takes place in ourselves, and in the people with whom we work as organisational practitioners and therapists.

Positive feedback from others seemed relevant, yet was not quite sufficient of itself to facilitate the necessary growth. We decided that responding to challenging situations is actually what brings about the development of a particular talent. Integration of a new aspect of self is necessary in order to resolve the situation in a satisfactory way. AsGestalt practitioners we have access to a body of literature that explores this process in great detail.

Situations need to be challenging enough (and to matter enough) to call forth the new response, but not so challenging that they defeat the individual involved. We found the work of twentieth century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky useful. Understanding learning as being a social occurrence, he emphasised the role of a facilitator in recognising how much challenge is useful and when it is counter-productive. The facilitator, who could be a manager, trainer or coach, also provides very important support and encouragement for the learner.

While we face challenging situations all the time in our lives and develop new abilities and facets of our selves in response, the presence of an experienced ‘other’ can calibrate the process and so provide valuable new learning and bring about effective action that resolves the situation in a profoundly meaningful way.

It’s fine (even essential) to be ordinary most of the time. Occasionally, though, it’s great to step out and become extraordinary! We can achieve this by evoking the talent that is latent within. Piergiulio and I believe our research offers some interesting insights and tools for facilitating that process.

Hot Cakes and Shared Space

The woman in the photograph is Jolene. She opened a café on the corner of a street in a residential area. The choice of location could have been disastrous (not on the high street so very little footfall) yet the place is an enormous success! I like to call in for a coffee when my work pattern means I drive over to that area. I was there eating cake (courgette and lime sponge) and thinking about my new book one day last week. My thought process was somewhat anxiously running along the lines of:

‘Are people really aware of how much things have changed in the way we work now, are they interested in exploring what the changes mean for their businesses and for their lives?’

Then I happened to tune in to the conversation Jolene was having with two customers (or were they friends? the relationship wasn’t absolutely clear) seated on stools at the high counter that separates the kitchen area from the public space. They were talking about their own work lives and those of family members. It wasn’t a static conversation, all the while Jolene was warming tarts, arranging salads and grinding peppercorns. I was lost in my own reverie, letting the talk flow around me and absent-mindedly admiring the dexterity with which the dishes came together. Then someone said:

‘Of course, everything has about that kind of work has changed since then…’  

It was like the answer to my question coming directly back at me: a definite yes!

One big change to the way we work is the location in which it takes place. With the growth in the number of coffee shops has come an extension of the activities that take place in them, particularly those related to work. It’s common to see a group of people having a meeting, or someone taking a business call on a mobile phone or using the free wi-fi to check emails or catch up on social media.

Coffee shop proprietors are disposed to be generous with their space, seeming to consider it a resource for the community. They welcome mother and baby group meetings, sales conferences and Tarot card readers, chess players and novelists. For me, this makes coffee shops part of the sharing economy. The deal is that the facilities – space, sofas, newspapers and the attention of the people who are baking sponges and wrangling the coffee machines, are available on immediate demand. In return, customers are only expected to purchase the beverage and/or food item of their choice.

The sharing economy is assumed to involve the internet in some way. On AirBnb, for example, first contact between the parties involved is likely to be via the website. With coffee shops, it is more likely to be the other way round. Customers would visit the premises and meet the people, then they might choose to follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Both these social media platforms provide opportunities for businesses to communicate very directly with their customers.

Coffee shops today are offering so much more than a place to rest after a strenuous shopping expedition, or somewhere to pick up a snack in the middle of a busy work day. They are a symbol of how the boundaries between work, social and family life are becoming blurred. And after my own experience with Jolene and her friends, they are clearly also still places where ideas can be discussed and exchanged, just as they were in London coffee-houses in the 17th century and Parisian cafés at the turn of the 20th.