Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Rage to Master. Do You Have It?

We inherit and we also become.

---David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us

As David Shenk so clearly points out, “talent is not a thing. It’s a process”. But it is so ingrained in our culture that geniuses are born, talent is scarce and there’s only so much you can change. Is this why we have to search far and wide for great managers and leaders? Is that why when we ask ourselves, “Who was the best boss you ever had?” we can usually come up with one but not two or more?

It turns out that we can all become more than we are IF we are intensely motivated to do so. Instead of the “nature: nurture” argument, “dynamic development” is the new paradigm for talent and well-being. Mediocrity need not be our destiny.

Since talent is a process, it can flower at any time in a person’s life. If you manage a team or larger you can become more effective at inspiring others to greater heights. If you are a parent, you can coach your children to reach beyond where they are now. The caveat is that you must work on developing yourself at the same time. We learn from those who are masters in their own right.

The only way is through “deliberate practice”, a term coined by Anders Ericcson and his colleagues to explain that talent is not the cause but the result of something. Read: lots of hard work and practice for hours on end interspersed with many failures on the road to greater success and mastery.

But how can you stoke your fires and those around you? How can you ramp up your “rage to master”, that “never-let-go willfulness and focus” to grow?

Here are some tips from the researchers on helping children develop. They resonate for adults too:
  • Nurture and encourage: turn up the volume and the frequency of positive and genuine feedback to create an environment of possibility;
  • Set high expectations as we develop to what the environment demands;
  • Embrace failure as a time to learn rather than as a built in limitation;
  • Encourage the growth mindset in each and every person. Open up their minds to the reality that their abilities are not fixed but are “malleable” and can develop with practice