“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent not a singular conception of ability…and at the heart of our challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence.” – Sir Ken Robinson (TED video)
It was previously thought that only some were meant for greatness. Those few, innately gifted individuals who managed to create something extraordinary in this world, in human history, and who in turn became examples to generations to come. Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi…actually there have been many of them.
But what about that grade-school teacher who helped you or your child overcome some important challenge and achieve beyond what you thought possible (I had mine: Mrs. Bernstein in Brooklyn Public School 238)?
Or the first person (boss/spouse/friend/stranger) who recognized your value and gave you (and your idea? business? design?) a chance?
And what about that waiter / receptionist / client / neighbor who reminded you of exactly what was important, when you needed it most…probably without even knowing it.
What is greatness anyway?
No doubt there is a special recognition to be made for individuals who have an extraordinary impact on human society. But I bet many of them, the ‘greater’ they are, the more humble they are, especially in recognizing their own humanity and limitation, and the fact that one man does not save the world…we all do. Each of these ‘great men and women’ was able to do what they did because of the movement of many. And each of them was in turn taught, influenced, supported, and empowered by others who never became known to the public.
Like a mother. Or a friend. Or a student.
I bring this up to suggest that greatness is not reserved for the chosen few. It is all around us, in every one of us, in everyday moments. And for me, it begins with the question of talent.
Sir Ken Robinson is a well-known great who has led overwhelming progress in the understanding of talent, intelligence, and greatness. He and I sit in the same camp: believing that everyone has a talent, but that more has to be done – particularly in education – to create the space, opportunity, and support to allow each individual’s talent to flourish. His original TED presentation on this back in 2006 has been downloaded more than 4,000,000,000 times all over the world. And his most recent one just a few months ago, proposes an entirely new model of education to properly recognize the talent and greatness in each of us.
In today’s world, there is still one main standard of intelligence, success, greatness…often measured by money, status, fame, and the general “bigness” of impact made by one individual. Educational systems, companies, governments, even families, are still run with these criteria in mind. Which is not to say they have no value, just that perhaps there is more to look at and consider in recognizing the potential of a person or an idea to achieve the kind of greatness that will move our world positively. And perhaps, sometimes, just one small conversation or gesture, at a time.
What does this mean for us? We, who have already passed through today’s standard education and are now teachers and managers and business owners ourselves? Who are parents and partners and everyday professionals?
I hear so many people say that they have no idea what they are good at.
They continue to pursue careers and lifestyles around what they think they “should” be doing, instead of what calls them, what they may be great at. Having a talent does not mean having to be the best in the world, nor does it mean devoting your professional career to it. It is about exploring and pursuing what makes you special, whatever gift you were given to make a meaningful contribution to you and others in this world, in this lifetime. And the funny thing with talents…when they are given space to play, and good hard work and knowledge are put towards developing them, happiness and prosperity seem to follow as well.
Do you believe that a street can be swept with greatness? That a conversation can be had with your child, partner, or the stranger sitting next to you on the bus…with greatness? It is small moments like this that can lead to powerful change. For me, it is the reason that I do what I do. Coaching is about creating that space and support for others.
And what would happen if we gave more value, appreciation, and support to letting each person develop their unique talent instead of pushing them to do what they “should”? If businesses took the time and effort to recognize, develop, and celebrate the unique abilities of their employees towards achieving ever-greater goals for the organization, instead of measuring everyone by identical standards?
In times like ours, of both crisis and opportunity, so much could be done if we put our truly best parts forward. And many are starting to do it, perhaps more now than ever.
We don’t all have to be Einstein’s, Gandhi’s, CEO’s, Picasso’s, or other big leaders.
But you never know which one of us may be.
So what is your Talent?
What would you do, if you “could”?
Share with us your thoughts and always feel free to contact me.