Thursday, 5 November 2015

CIPD Conference Blog #8 of many

After a hearty lunch and a good catchup with a few people I'm back in the conference and listening to former world class table tennis player Matthew Syed talking about developing high performance and whether talent is a myth. 

His opening anecdote was to suggest that talent is not necessarily an inbuilt gift that all world class sportspeople have. His view is that great sportspeople are great because they have spent years building up their reactions and thinking skills, not that they are born with greater talent than you or I. They have just worked at it for longer, and more effectively. 

This could be the breakthrough I have been looking for in fulfilling my long held dream of either a) playing for Manchester United, or b) being a professional wrestler for WWE. 

For Syed it's about the persistent application of belief, positive thinking and oodles of practice and development of skills. He points out how many talented young sportspeople fail to make the predicted breakthrough simply because they take their foot off the gas when they smell success, and by the time they realise, it's too late to get it back. 

So Syed is saying that if you practice long and hard enough, and think positively, and believe in yourself, you can develop world class skills. 

Is that true?

Well, I'm above average at triathlons, but not world class. I've got to be above average through doing exactly what Syed says works. But I've only got to be above average. And not world class. 

Could I be world class?  Maybe. I know what I need to do, but it's not to do with innate ability. It is to do with time availability and overall desire. 

And that ties in with Syed's stance on things, that it ones own self limiting beliefs and the restrictions one places on oneself that prevents talent from being successful. 

So basically it's my own fault I'm merely above average. 

Now that sounds harsh and Syed didn't mean it like that, but he's talking about mindsets being of more significance than talent. 

And he's right. 

He went on to talk about how similar mindsets prevent talent performance in business too. Have you seen this?

There's been a running theme in #cipd15 about use of data and information to make decisions and improve performance, and Syed's talk built on this theme. 

Syed asserted that the availability of data is not an issue, but a persons willingness to access and use the data is key to improving performance. Clive Woodward said the same thing yesterday. And there's something in that. 

He also said that those people who believe they are infallible or refuse to search for areas for improvement in their own performance are doomed never to improve said performance. The need to look at marginal gains is critical. 

Syed went back to a sporting analogy, looking at the work of Sir Dave Brailsford with Team Sky and Team GB. The concept of marginal gains is well understood in sport and looking at how just a 1% improvement can bring huge success. 

Now apply that to business. 

How often do we look at marginal gains to improve performance? Often we will look at the "big bets" and not where quick wins can be generated. 

He finished by saying that Silverdale Road in Reading had produced a disproportionate amount of great table tennis players, and put that down to the collective approach to skill development, practice, encouragement that they all had. He attributes the different level of success of this group somewhat to genetics but not wholly, with the rest being down to dedication and persistence. 

I've just tweeted that in one of the sports I play, crown green bowls, five UK champions have all been born within one mile of each other in my home town in Winsford, and three on the same street albeit years apart. There's nothing genetic there but there is something about upbringing and what is instilled into them about practice and dedication, and looking at marginal gains perhaps. 

Syed's main point is that if we develop a growth mindset, either in business or in sport, we have the foundations for success. And there's a momentum about it that brings more success, hence why you find clusters of successful people in one family, one geographical location or one area of business. 

He quoted James Dyson going through 5,000+ failed experiments before reaching the version that made him his fortune. And David Beckham scoring the free kick that sent England to the World Cup finals in 2002. In each case we know all about the final action, but what we don't see is the years of dedication and practice that each had put in. 

So, Cinderella, you CAN go to the ball. If you work hard enough, apply your thinking and seek the marginal gains based on data analysis AND keep thinking positive things about yourself as well as striving for improvements constantly. 

Well, what are you waiting for? Don't let me stop you. 

Till next time.

Gary