Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Black Box - Untapped Potential

Have you ever discovered a new talent by accident?

Yesterday I heard eight high potential technical employees who are being groomed for management positions present their educational and work histories in preparation for speaking to high school students.

A common theme connected their stories. Most had no mentor to guide them early in life. They made uninformed decisions leading to unfulfilled jobs before finding an employer who directed, and celebrated, their talents and drive.

When given the opportunity, the speakers excelled. They learned they could solve technical problems. They learned they had high personal standards for achievement. They learned they had the capacity to influence others in very positive ways. Others recognized these talent and these speakers were chosen for very selective management development programs.

Recent Gallop research states everyone is born with a talent he or she can demonstrate with more proficiency than at least 10,000 people. A good education, or employer, helps people unveil and utilize their gift, like these speakers.

People who remain stuck in unsatisfying careers don't seem to know themselves, or haven't stumbled into their talent.

Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham created the Johari Window. It's a four panel grid showing what a person knows and doesn't know about oneself with what others know and don't know about a person. The resulting boxes include: public skills, private traits, blind spots, and untapped potential.

Two years ago a Rhode Island high school track athlete was trying different events when his coach suggested he try the long jump and measure his jumping distance. When the student returned with the measuring tape, the coach asked how far he'd jumped.

The student responded: "21 feet". In disbelief, the coach asked him to jump again. The student jumped again. This time, closer to 22 feet. He also jumped six feet, four inches in his first attempt, ever, in the high jump.

This past year, Innocent Jacob led the U.S. indoor jumpers for much of the season with a distance of 24'-01" at Rhode Island Classic. This came a day after his 6'-11" high jump PR ranked him second in the U.S. He has has broken R.I. state long jump record 3 times.

Had not his coach suggested he try the long jump, would Innocent Jacob every known he had the talent?

And this leads to a personal discovery. Last year I sang in our Church's Christmas Cantata. One of the basses in the regular chorus was hiking the Appalachian Trail and I was asked to fill in during his absence. I was then asked to tryout for a local a Capella group, The Harpoon Harmonizers. This past weekend, we won our division in a regional / national competition including 80 groups. I have a long way to go, but I really enjoy it.

Everyone has a special gift and it's a pleasure to witness people who display their strengths. I hope you're inspired to help others find theirs, and to find your own.