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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Choose your talent zone (work-path)

While sportsman and artists choose their talent zone (i.e. play tennis or engage in dance) by the age of 5-8, cognitive performers ( what Peter Drucker calls as knowledge workers) working in engineering, law, accounts, and service professions do not choose their talent zone even till the age of 20 because of the genuine difficulties they face.

Let me clarify what we mean by talent. Talent is not a 'potential' ability; it is a demonstrated ability in a person who can replicate that ability consistently in different situations. Therefore, when one is young, one does not have a talent, one only has a potential 'ability'. To convert this potential ability into a talent, one has to chose a wide enough 'Talent Zone', otherwise ability remains just a dormant ability.

Only after artists and sportsman chose 'Talent Zone' ( you can also think of it as work-path) to invest time and resources, they can embed 'talent' in their lives, like you can design 'fashion' for your life. Designing talent is not just imagining the 'to-be' possibilities for yourself, but also giving form to those possibilities. Having chosen their talent zone, artists and sportsman then find ways and means to incrementally increase the challenges, use coaches and other support mechanisms to negotiate these challenges, narrow or widen the 'core ability' in the talent zone( should i do ballet or kathakali), develop complementary abilities to excel in the core ability, and write their 'signature' in the world.

If there are so many benefits of using a talent zone, why can't you, as cognitive performers, choose your talent zones ( work-paths) even at the age of 20, i.e when you are graduating. There seems to be two reasons. One is ignorance of the associated risks, and second is the knowledge of the talent designing process of cognitive talents.

Risk Scenario 1 : You may choose a wrong talent zone

Many graduate students avoid choosing a talent zone (work-path) , because they feel they may go on a wrong path and will not be able to recover from the mistake. This is incorrect understanding of the risk.

When artists and sportsman choose a talent zone, they are ready to exit if they realise they are not made for it. They can exit because they develop intermediate capabilities while pursuing the talent zone. They can combine these intermediate capabilities with other capabilities to find a different talent zone or domain.

For instance, take the example of of Jose Mourinho. He started as a professional footballer, but he soon realised that he may not be the best football player. He switched his work-path to football coaching. In other words, he used his intermediate capabilities and combined it with 'training' capability to pick an allied path of 'coaching'. He is one of the most successful football coaches today who has taken three different sides to the highest levels: Porto, Chelsea, and Real Madrid.

In aesthetic and sports fields, you will find countless examples. Subhash Ghai trained as an actor, but when he failed to break through, he changed the work-path to director and became one of the most successful directors in Bollywood. Mohinder Amarnath started his cricketing career as a fast bowler and retired as one of the best batsman. In cricket, you will find many examples of cricketers who, unable to find place in top team, still manage to earn enough money through their intermediate capabilities such as coaching youngsters, or managing their cricket association.

As cognitive performers, you can follow these examples. If you are on the education path of technology, you may choose any of the these functions: Sales, Design, Research, or working in Management of a company. Or if you are on the education path of accounts, you can choose subject speciality such as Investment banking, Auditor, merger and acquisitions and so on.

How should one make this choice? Many students lack the knowledge of talent development process to choose. For instance, when an athlete chooses a game, say football versus tennis, at the age of 7, he does not choose based on his potential. He just plays both the games,and then slowly over a period of time, finds the game where he is excelling. When he has no other game to play in his town or city, he just chooses the one that is available.  For instance, in India more than often, one chooses cricket.

The same holds for cognitive talent. After engaging with technological subjects in graduation, you can find out your abilities in those subjects and choose research or design zone. Some talent zones, to be chosen, require more dense engagement. For instance, only after working in a company would you know if you will excel in managing people or projects.

Morevr, as compared to aesthetic and sports field, the risk of not finding alternatives in one's chosen domain in cognitive fields is very low. In cognitive fields, the possibility of combining different skills is enormous. Cognitive performers can work in corporate, government organisations, social NGO's or can even start their company. They can work in the back office functions such as quality, maintenance or support or can work in the front office functions such as sales or production. They can work as 'solo performers' or as 'managers'. The possibilities are truly enormous. In other words, the risk scenario (1) is non-existent in cognitive fields.

Risk scenario 2: After choosing a domain, you may not reach the top

This is a genuine fear. Even sportsman and artists face this fear. But no one, i have seen, drops the pursuit of the talent because they are scared that they may not reach the top. And surprisingly, even though , when they do not reach the top (remember not more than 5% reach the top), they still feel that 'journey was well worth'.

There are two reasons why 95% still pursue the talent journey, i think. One is, the benefits of pursuing a domain are that it provides them an anchor to live their life. They are more grounded and can face the chaotic situations in their life with calm. Two, 95% can still get enough money even when they do not get the highest. As we discussed in the blog of 12 June, the extent of money is determined by the functioning of skill market. If the skill market is well developed, choosing a desired domain is easier. This is why it has now become so easy to chose 'music domain' in India.

In cognitive fields, the difference between the top 5% and the rest is not so steep as in sports and arts field. In cognitive fields, the talents are not uni-dimensional as in arts or sports. For instance, it is easy to figure out the top 20 violinist in the world, but it is not easy to figure out the top 10 managers in the industry. In other words, options to 'monetise' your talent are so numerous that it does not matter if you do not reach the top.

Given that there is very little risk, what stops cognitive performers in choosing their domains during graduation? I can only think of one reason: their lack of knowledge of how the process of talent development works.

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