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Without talent

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 10:49
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While skimming through my Twitter timeline, recently, I was immediately taken by the list below. It was so simple, and yet, made me think about the way that we value ‘talent’ above everything else. However, we forget that talent is only part of what makes a person successful or effective.

Let’s have a quick review of the ’10 Things that Require Zero Talent’…

1. Being on time is important, whether you are a student or a professional. 

If you aren’t ‘there’ you don’t get to show how talented you might be. And, showing up late will take the shine off anything you might do after. What does it take to be on time? A clock/watch and the ability to plan your journey. It certainly isn’t rocket science, so there’s no excuse.

2. Have a good work ethic, again, puts you in a good light in almost anything you undertake. 

As a student, this is reflected in the way you engage with your studies, your behaviour in lectures and seminars and the way that you get your work done on time. As professional, it’s not that different. 

The attitude that you show in undertaking your work (even if sometimes you’re asked to do things you don’t ‘like’) and your willingness to take on work, are the sort of thing that employers look for when hiring and promoting staff.

3. Similar to your work ethic is your willingness to make and effort. 

When asked to do something, or get involved, your willingness to put in the time, give it your best, and work with others, is a testament to how serious you take yourself and your colleagues. When others see you make an effort they are likely to make an effort, too; and, when everyone does this the work get easier, more enjoyable and (usually) leads to better results.

4. Your body language says more than you imagine. 

Slouching during a seminar or a meeting tells others that you are not interested - that you don’t care. Your body language will reveal aspects of your work ethic and the effort you’re willing to expend. It can also reveal things about your attitude and your personality. 

Think about how you sit, stand and what you do with your hands. When talking to a colleague, if your arms crossed, you will appear to defensive. Trying to make a point, during a discussion, by pointing your finger will appear aggressive. 

Managing your body language takes time and practice. The place to start is to try to see yourself as others do, when you are interacting with them. Reflecting on your own body language may also help you to understand how others are feeling, as you recognise their body language.

5. Everything we do, in our studies or our profession, requires some energy; and it isn’t always easy to bring that energy to a task. 

However, a sign of someone who is passionate (see below), and has a good work ethic, is that they will bring energy to their work; even when asked to do things that may not be the most exciting. Energy is not just a physical property, it is a mental attitude. We all have it and we can all apply it.

6. Your attitude has no relation to your skill, knowledge or ability. 

Like body language, your attitude tells others about you and your approach to your work. You attitude will also play a role in how others will view, and engage with you. If you have an open and positive attitude, willing to listen, others will be more likely to engage with you in a constructive way. 

Like your body language, your attitude is something you can work to improve. By using some empathy, to put yourself into the mindset of others, consider how you present yourself to others. Are you someone who is easy to work with? Are you someone who listens? Are you someone who recognises the good things that others do? If your answer to any of these is ‘no’, then you might need to take a step back and try to be that person. 

Don’t mistake your attitude with your mood. We all have times when, for whatever reason, we’re having a bad day that affects our mood. You can be in a bad mood and still listen to others, work constructively with others, and welcome the input of others. Further, if your overall attitude is positive then your colleagues will be far more likely to support you through the ‘bad days.’

7. As a student or a professional, you are engaged with a subject that you have chosen. 

Hopefully, you are doing something that is meaningful to you and to your future. This is something for which you have passion. You can find many definitions of passion, but one of the best I’ve seen is from Wikipedia:

“Passion is a feeling of intense enthusiasm towards or compelling desire for someone or something. Passion can range from eager interest in or admiration for an idea, proposal, or cause; to enthusiastic enjoyment of an interest or activity; to strong attraction, excitement, or emotion towards a person.”

Personally, I’m quite passionate about the work that I do, and this comes through in many ways. One of the things that I’m still learning is to be able to manage the way my passion reflects in my attitude. Passion is a great thing, as it gives us energy, makes us willing to put in the effort, and informs our work ethic. But, recognising that your passion may not be shared is an important point. 

Of course you should be passionate about the things that you care about, but you should also recognise that you can’t make other people be passionate about the same things. Allow your passion to inform the way you work, share the fact that you are passionate about something, but allow your attitude to remain open to other points of view.

8. We learn new things everyday - or we should. 

To be able to allow new things to open up new opportunities you have to be willing to allow others to help and support you. Being coachable is a very important trait to develop in yourself. Being coachable is about recognising that others have skills, knowledge and behaviours that you can learn. 

Your ability to be coached will be affected by your attitude, energy and work ethic. If you show you are willing to learn (attitude), that you have the drive to learn (energy) and you will put in the time to learn (work ethic), then others will be more than happy to share and support. And, don’t forget, others might be able to coach you to improve your body language, your time keeping, etc. There’s always something to learn and there’s always someone who can help you learn.

9. If you have a good work ethic, energy, a positive attitude and are passionate about something it can be easy to be doing extra. 

Doing extra is about not aiming to do what is necessary or required. If you are asked to do something, do a little bit more than asked. Whether as a student or in employment, that ‘extra’ shows that you care about what you do. It shows you are passionate. It shows that you have a good attitude, work ethic and you will put in the effort. 

If you do a little extra, you may find that others will do a little more, and soon you’ve got a much better outcome that was expected. If you’re a student, this might result in a higher grade (because you’ve pushed yourself beyond the ‘pass’). 

In employment, this might lead to more opportunities or greater responsibility which, may, ultimately lead to a better salary. You don’t have to be talented or lucky, you just have to be willing to try.

10. Like ‘being on time’ there is another point that underpins all, and that is being prepared. 

You may think you have the best attitude, the most energy, a clear passion and a great work ethic, but if you walk into the room without being prepared then perhaps you aren’t as accomplished in those other areas. 

Being prepared is about knowing what you need to do the task at hand. If you are going to a meeting, you should know what the meeting is going to discuss and have read the material or prepared the work that is needed. 

There is nothing worse that being in a meeting, having your manager say “Now, can you tell us about…” and you’ve got nothing to say. Or, in the classroom, the tutor says “Can you tell us about what think about chapter…” and this is the first time you’ve looked at the material. Such situations reflect badly, whether your a student or a professional. 

If you don’t know what you might need, to be prepared, just ask. Asking questions, like “what would you like me to present in the meeting tomorrow?”, is perfectly reasonable thing to do. In fact, it might reflect a good attitude and show that you want to make an effort.

Over to you

While this list in Bill Gross’ tweet suggests that you don’t need talent or luck, I would suggest that these are all talents. You don’t need to be talented, in some grand way, you can have a talent that is simply the aptitude or ability to do something. We can all have the talents in this list, if we just take the time to make sure we are thinking about what we do, why we do it, and how it affects ourselves and others.

Luck? Well, that’s a whole different story…


Geoffrey is a qualified architect, who has worked in the US and UK on projects in the US, UK and Asia. He has been involved in teaching, leadership and management of higher education for more than 20 years; and was the Course Director for undergraduate architecture at University of the Arts London from 2004-2016. He has taught and lectured in the UK, Canada, Brazil, Hong Kong, Spain, and South Africa. He is the author of ‘The Design Process in Architecture’ (2018) and ‘Architecture: An Introduction’ (2010) as well as numerous articles for magazines and journals. 

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