Is het talentmanagement of competentiemanagement?

In de reeks ‘kort-door-de-bocht-analyses’ 🙂

Het gebruik van de term ‘talentmanagement’ in een professionele context stoort me behoorlijk. Voor mij is talent immers

  1. een aangeboren ‘voorsprong’ in een bepaalde competentie; of
  2. een natuurlijke flair of gemak (easiness) bij het gebruik van een bepaalde competentie.

Een aangeboren ‘voorsprong’ in een bepaalde competentie betekent echter niet noodzakelijk dat de persoon die voorsprong benut of die competentie überhaupt maar aanwendt.  Ik ken mensen met een uitgesproken aanleg voor ritme maar niet actief met muziek bezig zijn. Afhankelijk van de persoonlijkheid kan in bepaalde gevallen talent zelfs een averechts effect hebben. Na een snelle, vlotte start in het aanleren van de competentie ontbreekt het doorzettingsvermogen om de competentie volwaardig verder uit te bouwen. Wie herkent niet de kinderen uit zijn vriendenkring die met groot gemak en beperkte inspanning de lagere en middelbare school passeren om het dan op de universiteit moeilijk krijgen?

De woordkeuze ‘voorsprong’ is daarom ook bewust gekozen. Het is niet omdat je geen talent hebt, je de competentie niet kan aanleren. Alleen kan het leertraject meer tijd in beslag nemen en zal men in vele gevallen niet het allerhoogste niveau kunnen bereiken. Maar dat hoeft ook niet steeds de betrachting te zijn. Opnieuw is het muzikale leerproces hiervoor heel illustratief (zie bijvoorbeeld ‘Een denkoefening: muzikaal talent en toewijding’).

Met andere woorden, talenten zijn een restrictieve subset van iemands competentieportfolio. Meer zelfs, bij bepaalde personen maakt hun talent zelfs geen onderdeel uit van hun actief competentieportfolio.

Daarom is het mijns inziens correcter te spreken over competentiemanagement. Het gaat om de skills, attitude en motivatie.

What’s your Curiosity Quotient?

Change is the only constant in our life. The pace of change is ever increasing. We are living in an “age of complexity”.

You’ve probably heard these phrases many times. But one can only assent to them. Change is part of our life. Change is part of our society. Change is part of economics. Change is part of nature. No one else formulated it better than Charles Darwin: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change”. One could talk about that as AFQ or Adaptive Fitness Quotient: the degree to which someone is capable of adapting to continuous change in a proactive, flexible and continuous way.

In business talk, this becomes for instance “Curiosity is as important as intelligence”.  Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes in a blog on the Harvard Business Review website about the rapid pace of technological changes, and the complexity it generates. However, for him the question “Is this era more complex?” is not relevant. Instead he asks himself the question “Why are some people more able to manage complexity?” Although complexity is context-dependent, it is also determined by a person’s disposition.

He sees three key qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity. IQ, EQ and CQ.

What IQ stands for is clear. EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ is a key ingredient of interpersonal skills. Most employers and customers are not only looking for technical expertise, but for soft skills as well. CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more open to new ideas, new experiences and new knowledge. CQ it is just as important when it comes to managing complexity and coping with change. CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time. Although IQ is hard to coach, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic concludes with the observation that EQ and CQ can be developed. As a marginal note, EQ and CQ have a positive effect on stress mastering and avoiding burn-outs.

In fact, the term curiosity quotient is put forth by Thomas L. Friedman – author of the book The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century – as part of an illustrative formula CQ + PQ > IQ to explain how motivated individuals can learn about a personally interesting subject, whether or not they possess a particularly high IQ.  In this metaphorical formula PQ stands for passion quotient. Thomas Friedman states that when curiosity is paired with passion in the exploration of a subject of interest, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent. In other words, curiosity and passion are key components for personal growth in a world where information is readily available to everyone and where global markets reward those who are self-motivated to learn.

Therefor it’s important to know one’s personal interests, passions and vision; both from private and professional perspectives. Some food for thought in that context could be the following questions:

  • Am I prepared to no longer look at my life in terms of what it is or was, but of what it can be? Do I no longer look at the organization in terms of what it is or was, but of what it can be?
  • Do I have my own vision of life? Does my team have a vision? Do I understand and support the vision of my organization?
  • Do you no longer consider yourself a victim of change caused by nature or society or economics, but an individual capable of proactively developing yourself, your team and your organization towards the corresponding visions?
  • Do you distribute your knowledge to support your colleagues’ learning?
  • How can I increase my competencies and self-confidence?
  • How can I increase my independence?

Adaptive Fitness Quotient or Curiosity Quotient or whatever, we must learn how to aim at targets that move quicker and quicker, how to ski on avalanches of change that get bigger and bigger and how to surf on waves of change that get higher and higher. I don’t remember where I picked up this one, but one may find consolation in the following 😉

“Death is balance. Life is resistance to this balance.”



We are learning animals – learning by taking a plunge

When the famous Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was asked at the age of 95 why he still practiced six hours a day, he answered: “Because I think I’m making progress.” Toots Thielemans was still practicing at an age above 90. Wasn’t it Henry Ford who stated “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.“

I recently downloaded a series of podcast to listen in the car. Among them a series of interviews with some respected bass players on how they made their career. These bass players are all great musicians with different backgrounds, education, style and age. After listening to those interviews some common topics became very clear. One is how and when they learned and progressed the most as a musician.

Almost all said that the moments they learned and progressed the most were at times accepting a new “mission” far from their comfort zone (i.e. their actuals skills or style of music). It’s the kind of requests to which they enthusiastically replied ‘YES!’ and then realizing after some minutes ‘oh my god, this I will never be able to play/do’. However, those were the moments they start working very hard to learn and work on the missing skill(s). And perhaps the beginning was difficult and the first shows were perhaps somewhat disappointing; but after a while they managed and brought their skills up to the next level. Others worked so hard they were super prepared for the first gig. Only by aiming for a higher goal, by taking a next step that was beyond their current capabilities, by working (learning, studying, practicing, …) hard, and diving in the pool they progressed substantially. Each time again by working hard they were able to take that next leap.

Perhaps being not a musician this may seem to be a little far fletched from your daily business, but the underlying learning mechanisms are just the same. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you won’t learn anything substantially new. Without the courage to take the leap, you miss out on important opportunities for advancement.

We have to recognize these opportunities and take advantage, take the plunge. One might discover that what one initially feared is not as bad as one thought and that at the end one will have learned a lot. If a certain change seems too big, we can try with smaller steps. By taking a smaller step, one is still moving forward, which is always better than staying still.

Whether a professional musician, an expert, a consultant, a knowledge worker, a doctor, etc. we all need to keep our skills up-to-date. Taking into account that our competence domains and environment take regularly forward leaps, we have to take regularly a plunge as well. But these are often the moments we progress the most.

Our employability, our ability to gain and maintain a desired job, no longer depends on what we already know, but on what we are able to learn. Our only security is our ability to learn and to adapt.



Working on your musical foundations – slowly

I’ll confess. I consider myself being unmusical. But at the same I’m incredible passionate about music; it’s just my lifeblood.

Being unmusical I had to work hard for the musical level I’ve reached today, which I’m proud of. And hey, it’s the journey that counts the most. But looking back I think I could have reached this level faster if I would have experienced sooner the two insights I only found recently: the power of practicing slow and working on one’s musical foundations.

Practicing slow

The insight on the importance of practicing slow I found in two books I read shortly after one another: ‘The Practice of Practice’ by Jonathan Harnum and ‘The Practicing Mind’ by Thomas M. Sterner. It does not bring anything practicing something at the speed which you cannot master; this way you only enforce your muscle memory and brains to make the same error(s). On the other hand, if you practice slowly at the speed you can master without making errors – how slow that may be – you are enforcing your muscle memory and brains with the right patterns. From there on you can gradually increase the tempo. But never to a level at which you start making errors. This process can take some time, but you have to trust the process. I already experienced myself it makes a big difference in making progress. Some things I could not master during several years, I gradually can now by applying the slow practice method. By the way, these are two books I highly recommend to every serious musician.

Working on your foundations

During my adolescence I started playing bass without any musical background. It’s only at a later age I followed for several years a musical education (theory, piano, bass). This was a real eye opener on many things (chords, harmony, etc.). However, I made little progress on one of my weakest point: 16th subdivisions. And with the Belgian educational system (Deeltijds Kunst Onderwijs or DKO) being subsidized by the number of students, music teachers are afraid of demotivating students. As a result they avoid the boring exercises of working on musical foundations. And I agree, it is of utmost important to avoid to demotivate students and to kill the joy of playing music. But at the same time a good teacher should be able to identify the students (asking the right questions helps 🙂 !) who want to go to a next level and who are prepared to work on (sometimes dull) foundation exercises to reach this next level. I heard this formulated nicely by drummer Anika Nilles during one of her workshops: “It’s like building a house. If you are happy with a small house – which is fine – you can do with a limited foundation. However, the higher the building you want to build, the stronger the foundations need to be.”

From now on I will be working more on my foundations – slowly.

Generatief leren of leren zoals een muzikant …

Het Creativity World Forum 2014 ligt alweer een tijdje achter ons. Wanneer ik echter het CWF2014 terug voor de geest haal, voel ik nog steeds de positieve ‘vibes’ die er zwierig rondzweefden. De muzikale opluistering door Project B en Goose hebben deze positieve frequenties alleen maar verstrekt. Mijn persoonlijke ontdekking op CWF2014 was Austin Kleon. Met een presentatie getiteld ‘Steal without ending in jail’ naar zijn gelijknamig boek(je) ‘Steal like an artist wist hij onmiddellijk mijn aandacht en dat van het publiek te trekken. ‘Steal like an artist’ had echter ook ‘Learn like an artitst’ of ‘Learn from an artist’ kunnen heten, maar dat bekt minder sexy. Een goede titel of term – herinner je bijvoorbeeld emotionele intelligentie of recenter mindfullness – is reeds de helft van het verhaal en soms ook de helft van het succes. Los daarvan, met ‘Steal like an artist’ illustreert Austin Kleon op basis van zijn eigen werk en zijn persoonlijk leerproces perfect het concept van generatief leren: leren door te doen, door continu resultaten te generen en daarvan te leren, jouw visie eventueel bij te sturen en zich verder te bekwamen en te ontwikkelen. “Make things, know thyself” stelt Austin Kleon. Stelen is in die context dan ook niet letterlijk te nemen, maar wel te interpreteren als ‘zich laten beïnvloeden’. Een muzikant leert van andere muzikanten, laat zich beïnvloeden door zijn omgeving (in de breedste zin van het woord) en zoekt op verschillende manieren naar een eigen stem (althans de master musician, zie Een denkoefening: muzikaal talent en toewijding ). Van de muzikanten in spe die ik vanuit mijn jeugdjaren ken en die zich destijds bewust afsloten van elke muzikale beïnvloeding vanuit de overtuiging zich op die wijze muzikaal uniek te kunnen ontwikkelen, zijn er geen die achteraf iets wezenlijks op muzikaal gebied gerealiseerd hebben. Ik ga hier Kleons presentatie niet samenvatten, men kan beter het boekje erop nalezen. Wel haal ik graag zijn laatste leerpunt ‘creativity is substraction nog even aan. In het kader van muzikaal meesterschap onthoud ik vooral “Embrace your limits and keep moving. … Examine where you fail short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your work.” Ook Austin Kleon’s tweede boek(je) ‘Share like an artist’ is het lezen waard. Hierin komt obligaat “Finding your own voice” aan bod, opnieuw in de context van generatief leren. “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it. “ Daaraan gekoppeld breekt hij een lans voor het “amateurschap”. “Enjoy being an amateur. … Amateur – the enthusiast who pursues his work in the spirit of love, regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career. … Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing. Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, … make a commitment to learning it in the front of others.” In dat kader wijdt David Byrne in zijn boek “How music works een heel hoofdstuk aan amateurs: hun historische betekenis, maar vooral ook de vaak miskende positieve sociale, maatschappelijke en economische gevolgen van het “amateurschap” (en de scholing – in de trant van Waarom muzikaal onderricht meer dan muzikaal onderricht is … ) “How music works, chapter 9 Amateurs!” = verplichte leesvoer voor onze beleidsmakers. Misschien David Byrne op het volgende CWF uitnodigen? Met Oudjaar in het vooruitzicht, laat ons in 2015 voldoende respect tonen voor alle amateurs in de verschillende kunstdisciplines.

“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” – Craig Damrauer

No excuse for not knowing, no excuse for not learning

Although the 70-20-10 model for learning and development of Morgan McCall and his colleagues has been under discussion recently, I’ve always found it a useful framework. The model illustrates clearly that training can take different forms; that we learn roughly 70% from on-the-job experiences, 20% from other people and 10% from courses and reading.

And that last part has changed dramatically!

Learning resources are no longer scarce. The time that this kind of learning took only place in a classroom setting is far behind us. And although classroom training still has its valuable applications, the Internet, portables, mobile devices, content commons, collaborative platforms, and so on make learning possible anywhere at any time. With the Internet there is almost no excuse for not knowing, there is almost no excuse for not learning (of course in the assumption you have Internet access and your basis physical and social needs are satisfied). Those who are driven to learn can find many ways to learn.

Some months ago I started experimenting with digital audio recording technology (i.e. DAW – Digital Audio Workstations). First with Steinberg’s Cubase and now with Ableton Live. Both software programs are loaded with tons of features and possibilities. With no foreknowledge I started learning step-by-step watching YouTube instructional videos made by people ranging from semi-professionals up to – and most of the time – just very enthusiastic users and musicians. For the few very specific technical problems that I encountered the different user fora brought a solution. Amazing and admirable how many people like to share their knowledge. OK, for some it’s part of their personal branding strategy, but you really see a lot of enthusiastic people sharing their knowledge.

In our Western society, working on one’s employability became a continuous occupation. Alvin Toffler already forecasted this in 1970(!): “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. Bass players have their particular way to formulate this. Bass player and music teacher Ed Friedland nicely said: “I’m still learning new things every time I play. When you reach the top of one mountain, you can clearly see the other mountains that lie ahead”. Or bass player Charley Sabatino answering the question “What are your musical goals?” in July’s BassPlayer magazine with “To continue to play, grow, and explore until 45 minute after they bury me.”

Speaking about a drive to learn …. If you are doing what you’re loving, who cares. Mastery is about loving the process and the journey, not the ultimate goal.


Trust-based music practice: why going slow results in faster progress

Even when you’re performing a lot, there is no substitute for practicing if you want to keep your level of musicianship (or any other skill for that matter) and want to improve.

For the times you’ve little time to practice, I found a good advice in ‘Metaphors for the Musician’ by Randy Halberstadt and which Randy Halberstadt metaphorically called ‘targeted bombing’ (did you ever forget the term ‘emotional intelligence’ after hearing or reading it for the first time?).

The idea of targeted bombing is that if you have only an hour to practice, it’s better to practice something new but small and with the attitude that this will be your only chance to practice it. So ask yourself:

  • What can I do within the next hour to permanently improve my musicianship in one very small but measurable way?
  • What can I do to master this one item so that it will be self-reinforcing, so that it will immediately begin to show up in my actual performances?

This requires trusting yourself; accepting the competences you have today and that you’ll improve step by step (“trust-based practice”). Trying to go fast usually means slow progress or even implies the danger of complete paralysis. Going slow, conversely, usually means faster progress. Slow and steady wins the race in this context.

It sounds paradoxical; but if you take your time and dig in deep to what you’re practicing you’ll actually progress faster. As you climb a mountain with thousand small steps.

Waarom muzikaal onderricht meer dan muzikaal onderricht is …

Ik heb de discussies over de hervormingsplannen van het DKO (Deeltijds Kunst Onderwijs) niet echt gevolgd, maar het weinige dat ik gelezen en gehoord heb, volstaat om een bezorgdheid over de beleidslijnen van de muzikale vorming binnen het DKO te doen opborrelen.

De fragmenten die ik uit de discussies opvang handelen over kostenstructuur, subsidies, inschrijvingsgelden en methoden om getalenteerde jongeren zo snel mogelijk muzikaal verder te ontwikkelen.

Uiteraard moeten muzikaal getalenteerde jongeren alle ondersteuning krijgen om zich optimaal verder te kunnen ontwikkelen. Maar ook voor de minder getalenteerde is muzikale vorming belangrijk (althans voor hen die er voor open staan). Actief musiceren heeft immers talrijke positieve “bijeffecten”, zoals:

  • Het is wetenschappelijk aangetoond dat actief musiceren een enorme positieve impact op de ontwikkeling van de hersenen van jongeren heeft. En evengoed heeft bij ouderen actief musiceren nog een positieve impact op de hersenen.
  • Musiceren heeft een positieve invloed op de motoriek, niet onbelangrijk voor ouderen.
  • Muziek heeft een positieve invloed op het zelfbeeld.
  • Muzikale activiteiten faciliteert sociale integratie (een mooie verdienste van bijvoorbeeld fanfares en harmonieën).

Ook al bestaan er alternatieven gaande van fanfares en harmonieën tot jeugdcentra zoals  Let’s Go  Urban en muziekcentra à la TRIX, alle voorgaande aspecten moeten mijns inziens in de beleidslijnen van het DKO aanwezig zijn. Uiteraard vraagt dit een aangepaste pedagogische aanpak. Maar zoals in het bedrijfsleven is een twee-sporen-aanpak (two-speed appraoch) werkbaar.

Music Zero? Adults and Music Learning

I’m not an expert in music teaching; but let’s say I would be one of those rare study objects Gary Marcus mentions in his great book “Guitar Zero – The New Musician and the Science of Learning”. In this book professor in psychology Gary Marcus describes his personal experience taking a sabbatical year to learn to play guitar. This at the age of 42 with no discernible musical talent (or even diagnosed with congenital arrhythmia).

Although it has been studied how children learn music; there’s hardly any systematic research on how adults learn music. To learn a musical instrument you need to put a lot of effort (10.000 hours is an oft mentioned number) and to do a proper study on how adults learn music, you would need a reasonably large sample of participants, which would imply a big group of adult novices. Most adults go to music lesson once or twice a week combining their “hobby” with a professional and family life. Few adult learners of music are prepared to invest the kind of time that a child or teenager has. “No subjects, no science” concludes Gary Marcus. Sharing his personal experience and at the same trying to answer many questions encountered on his learning path makes this book so unique.

One of the questions he tries to answer is:  what is a good music teacher? Well, he/she must

  • have patience
  • be able to diagnose fast and accurate
  • apply deliberate practice in the zone of proximal development of his student
  • be a good motivator

But are adults still able to learn something completely new? A recent study of Eric Knudsen and Brie Linkenhoker illustrates that adult owls aren’t as flexible in learning as baby owls, but adult owls can still learn if the job is broken down into smaller bit-size steps. We human adults however are often in rush – not to say impatient – to get the big picture, while kids more often are willing to practice a single element. So a good music teacher should be able to manage this tension between the urge to get the big picture, the expectation to progress fast and the slow progress in reality by a bit-by-by learning approach. At the same time adults have often far more difficulties coping with errors.

Let me add a personal experience. Of the many music teachers I had (3 for music theory, 4 for piano, 1 for double bass, 2 for electric bass, 1 for drums and several others for ensemble coaching)  I remember only two teachers asking for my musical background, my musical aspiration and my particular learning needs.

Mmmh, room for improvement and an interesting research topic  …

If you read this instead of practicing …

I don’t know why, but I discovered only recently the bass player Chris Minh Doky. I can say I have an additional bass hero to add on my list.

Listening to his CD A Jazz Life I was a little puzzled reading the quote at the end of the accompanying booklet:

If you read this instead of practicing – get to work, and deep in it. We all need you.

At first sight somewhat awkward to write into one’s CD booklet a message like “stop listening to this CD”. 😉 But of course it’s a clear message to all musicians out there: musical mastery comes only after hard and long study, countless hours of practice and playing together with other musicians. Other musicians need you, the audience needs you.

Some talent helps of course, but talent alone is not enough. Hard work is required.

The same week I ‘discovered’ Chris Minh Doky I saw part of a Belgian documentary that shows how ballet dancers of the Koninklijke Balletschool Antwerpen are prepared for a professional dancing career. The age of the students in the documentary ranged from 4 up to 18 years. The youngest ones already follow preparation classes with among others painful stretching exercises. With the mantra “Balletpijn is fijn” these children are learned from early age on that to become a professional ballet dancer a lot of effort, pain, perseverance and sacrifice will be needed. Although I knew the mantra “No pain, no gain” from the runners community I must say I watched these images with mixed feelings. But an older student summarized it as “I go to sleep for ballet dancing; I wake up for ballet dancing”.

I remember from my childhood a time we were preparing for the yearly scout festival a joke with was built around Deep Purple’s song Smoke on the Water.  A friend could play the riff on a toy guitar (on one string) and was dreaming aloud: wouldn’t it be great to have success like Ritchie Blackmore. What he didn’t understand was that the space between playing a riff in a simplified form on a toy guitar and the guitar play of for instance Ritchie Blackmore comes is made by a lot of effort, perseverance and sacrifice, countless hours of practice, … For most of the artists recognition comes not that easy. What is so peculiar, they often make it look like it is so easy what they are doing.

But that being said, I want to add two important side remarks

First of all, whatever one is learning, practicing or aiming at, don’t forget to enjoy the journey instead of the destination.

And secondly; even if I write often on professionalism and mastery in my blogs, I want to stress that there is a place for all levels of proficiency in music and art, from beginner to amateur up to the true professional. As long it’s entertaining, brings a message or conveys an emotion AND if whenever it’s true-hearted.  A fanfare, a cover band building a party, a starting punk band with a message, …

We cannot all be Marcus Miller or Chris Minh Doky.

For sure I’m not.