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Be the Best in the World At The Things That Require No Talent

Hotel Towels and a Sign to Save Water

A while back it was in fashion to talk about 10 Things that Require No Talent and included in the list were items like “being on time”, “hard work/work ethic” and “doing extra”, depending on the list you were looking at. It’s been up at my gym for a while now and it’s a bit of a daily reminder (next to my “be able to to do pistol squats” - but let's not focus on that...) of how not everything requires talent or particular skill.

I often look at these motivational type posters, quotes and the like, and wonder how they apply to the day-to-day. I mean, sure, working hard doesn’t really require talent, but it isn’t particularly attractive. Nor fun for that matter. Nor is doing more or effort.

In a previous article I referred to the British and Irish Lions rugby team taking this concept and applying it to their approach to the Test series against the All Blacks in 2017. The Lions felt they had the game plan to match the All Blacks but lots of teams and coaches have had games plans and strategies to beat the All Blacks but have fallen short. Not for nothing are the All Blacks the most dominant team in sport – any sport.

What the Lions did was to develop a game plan around the players they had and to that, add a wholistic mindset, a belief system that drove the tour to a famous series draw. Effectively, what they did was to take this concept of 10 Things that Require No Talent and apply it to everything on the tour. Including the way they played the game.

They refined this concept into the phrase "be the best in the world at the things that require no talent". And when you think about it, what a wonderfully distilled, simple, yet massively effective tool for achieving results and outcomes. You may not have the best squad or resources... but that doesn't stop you from being coachable, working harder, having the right attitude or doing extra. And if everyone commits to this, the whole team/business lifts.

You could argue that this is taking things too far, but there is precedent for this concept. Avis famously took on Hertz with the tagline We Try Harder, for instance.

From a team / business perspective, there’s something immensely powerful about this concept. All too often in business we point to the competition and say “we can’t compete because they’re bigger than us… they have more resources… they are better connected etc”, all of which may well be valid points, but at the end of the day, there will always be someone who is better, can do things faster, has more money to throw at a problem.

In his famous TedTalk, Simon Sinek references the challenges the Wright brothers had to developing their aeroplane against Samuel Langley, who had better funding, more resources and support. He talks about their why and that being a driver to why they succeeded. Somewhere in there, I guarantee you, fueling this drive, was a work capacity that helped drive them to success… a willingness to do more, to do extra.

I have been and have worked with sales people for a long time now and have developed, I think, an ability to work out the ones who will do ok versus those who will really be successful. And it’s not necessarily about talent. I’ve met salespeople who’ve had the best training and induction, with great systems and processes but who aren’t as successful as others who have come from ‘non-sales’ backgrounds.

What typically separates them is a few basic character traits:

- A thirst and hunger for work

- A willingness to ask questions and not be limited by what they know

- A ‘whatever it takes’ mentality

What I’ve observed is that this is not a trait limited to sales people, but to any profession or hobby/interest. Those same traits characterise elite athletes.

Jonny Wilkinson, the former England rugby great famously obsessed about his goalkicking, making upwards of 500 goal kicks a week “and that’s just shots at goal, not kick offs or kicks for touch or any other kicks”. So when, with a minute left in extra time in the 2003 World Cup Final, and the ball was passed to him, he was able, through exhaustion, terrible weather conditions and a charging Wallaby defence, to nail the kick to win the match.

Before the 2014 CrossFit Games, eventual champion Camille leblanc-Bazinet talked about the fact she may not be the best athlete out there but when it comes to willingness to work and “go to that dark place… to die for it” (figuratively) she would do that and that if anyone wanted to beat her, they would need to do the same.

Now, you’d argue that both athletes were endowed with a degree (ok a vast degree) of talent, but history is littered with examples of extremely talented athletes, salespeople, CEOs, marketers and musicians who never reached their full potential because they didn’t have the other requisite parts. Some call it grit.

Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is evangelical about his belief that you should always “be the hardest worker in the room” and that it is that belief that has made him one of, if not the highest grossing actor in Hollywood today. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said “the harder I work the luckier I get”…

You don't always need the best tools and equipment. Yes, they help, but if we instead focus on the things that don't require talent or gifts, we can still be unstoppable.

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