From the book:
“The Motivated Brain” – written by Helle Bundgaard, Founder, Motivation Factor and Jefferson Roy, neuroscientist, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
(All rights reserved – Motivationfactor 2015
Our ability to learn, grow professionally and maintain long-term motivation depends on how effectively we leverage our personal Talents. Once we understand the value of utilizing our Talents and are actively applying them, our focus then naturally turns to facilitating and incorporating the Talents of others, which in turn boosts team productivity, innovation and performance.
Organizations can generate much greater capacity and higher levels of engagement with individuals who more actively employ their personal Talents in their everyday life and work. The Talents level represents this ability.
When Talents are underleveraged, you might observe:
- Disengagement or loss of top talent
- Requests for career development guidance or support
- Role confusion or ”stepping on toes”
- Lack of enthusiasm for current projects or direction
The Value of Talents
In this chapter we discuss Talents, one of the two upper levels in the Hierarchy of Motivation. These two levels – Talents and Purpose – correspond to Intrinsic Motivation – the extent to which your work is aligned with your inherent qualities, your passions and with what you find meaningful. Tapping into your Talents and being clear about the Purpose in your work is where growth, learning and real change occur. These levels are where the seed or our true motivation lives. Our ability to learn, grow professionally and maintain long-term motivation depends on how effectively we leverage our personal talents. Once we understand the value of utilizing our talents and are actively applying them, our focus then naturally turns to facilitating and incorporating the talents of others, which in turn boosts team productivity, innovation and performance. The Talents level represents this ability.
In my workshops on Personal Talents, I ask participants “What are you best at? What are the skills, qualities or ‘knacks’ you have that your family, friends and colleagues tend to remark on?”
Some of the responses from participants include:
- “Communicating in a diplomatic way”
- “Being creative”
- “Thinking out of the box”
- “Seeing the big picture and a path to get to the goal”
- “I’m good at research and diving into the details”
- “I’m persistent”
- “People say I’m an excellent listener”
- “I have excellent intuition and can see connections where others don’t”
Most everyone can identify at least one ability or inclination that tends to come naturally to them. Participants are then asked to recall the last time they were engaged in that “best at” activity and describe how it felt to contribute in that way.
Some of the descriptions were:
- “Like I had Purpose”
- “Wanted to do more”
In short, it feels motivating. Try it now for yourself by recalling the last time things seemed to flow effortlessly across your desk. A time when you were super-motivated and everything just seemed to succeed. This is exactly the effect we experience when we use our Talents. This is the essence of internal motivation.
We know the following four things about Talents:
- We have them. Everyone can think of a Talent or natural ability that they are able to perform at a level that is above the norm. More formally, a Talent can be described as the possession and development of a skill, and the expression of a natural aptitude of a sensorimotor and/or cognitive skill12. Essentially, Talents shape the way we view and interact with the world around us. For example, some people have an inordinate amount of curiosity and want to understand everything (i.e. mastery), while others view the world more globally and see interactions (i.e. strategic). No one Talent is better than another, it is how Talents are used that is important to being motivated.
- We feel good when we use them. The way we feel when we use our Talents has been investigated since Aristotle and more recently in the field of positive psychology13. Briefly, what has been found is that using our Talents leads to greater happiness and increased sense of well-being or eudaimonia14. More information on this line of research can be found in Chapter 10. In addition, when we use our natural Talents we contribute to a feeling of effortlessness and “flow”: the ideal balance of challenge and skill; effortlessness without being boring.
- We can use them to learn more efficiently. We learn by making new connections between areas and neurons in the brain15. This is called neural plasticity. Learning can also be faster if there are already connections in the brain that are related to the new information (i.e. it is easier to learn about a new camera if you are already familiar with many other types of camera)16. By leveraging our Talents, we give the brain a boost towards learning new skills. The brain areas involved in learning are negatively impacted by the chromic stress especially the hormone cortisol17. People who are effectively using their Talents (i.e. greater eudaimonia) have lower levels of cortisol18 suggesting that less stress is enabling the learning areas to function more efficiently.
- We can overuse them. Since Talents are ingrained, we can take them for granted. They feel so natural to us we may not even realize we’re using them. In fact, we can default to our Talents in ways that can get in our way if we’re not paying attention.
For teams, the identification and coordinated application of Talents is a powerful and often untapped reserve. And like Needs, it is better to manage our Talents than to have our Talents manage us or, worse, simply languish.
Our ability to leverage our talents to develop new competencies can be compared with the way we learn in school. When children begin to learn arithmetic, we begin by showing them something recognizable. We ask them, how many apples do I have? Six apples? So if I remove two apples, how many are left? If the child has learned to count it will be relative easy to figure out that there are four apples left. From there, we build on the child’s familiarity with apples and counting to introduce and build skill in arithmetic.
Conversely, if we were to show the calculation 6-2=4, the child would not be able to recognize the symbols or understand what they represent. It would take significant effort to make the child understand since the calculation consists of entirely unknown factors and nothing to build from.
The key to building on our talents is to put words to our “apples” so that we can more easily identify and apply them effectively to new situations. Take for example the case of the highly valued senior executive in one of the largest transportation companies in the world. Her aggressive and unprofessional treatment of colleagues and staff was threatening to derail her success. She had been to all the “people skills”, communication and management courses available without success. Indeed, she did not have a talent for “Empathy”. Given that the brain learns fastest and most efficiently by beginning with what you already know, if a person is lacking a basis upon which to build an understanding of emotional intelligence, building emotional intelligence itself is going to be a monumental – perhaps even impossible – task.
Through coaching it was discovered that while this executive did not have a natural talent in the area of Empathy, she did have a talent for Discovery. She interpreted Discovery as “being curious about things”. Working with her, I asked if she might not direct that curiosity toward the people with whom she worked. Remember, that simply by engaging in discussion about your talents, you are engaging those areas in the brain and triggering the release of the happy hormones. Suddenly, development seems, for the first time, POSSIBLE. There is immediate recognition of the known talent and subsequent connections being formed toward the desired new competency. By putting her talent for Discovery into play, the executive was able to develop and demonstrate an interest in others which significantly improved her work performance and relationships.
You can build new competencies more efficiently and with more confidence when you draw upon your existing talents. By using something recognizable as a starting point – a talent for “Discovery”, for instance, where you already have a close set of connections – you can build a bridge to form new connections.
Working with Talents is, to a great extent, a matter of helping people to put their Talents into play, but it is equally important to find out if they are overusing their Talents. If a team member has a talent for “empathy” and overuses this talent, he/she might find it uncomfortable to initiate “difficult” conversations or be limited by sensitivity to the reactions of others. A team member with a Talent of “mastery” might find it difficult to share responsibility, outsource things or delegate because they have an inner urge to master the work themselves, or they believe other people will not be as good at it as they themselves will be.
For one CFO delegating work was a challenge. His primary talent was “mastery” and he was naturally drawn to understanding and retaining responsibility for all parts of his function. Further complicating matters, his primary need was “to be needed”. No wonder delegation was difficult!
By identifying the Needs and Talents in play, he was able to clarify those work functions he found most draining and those he found most energizing. In his case budgeting was quite satisfying whereas budget follow-up was not. This recognition led him to decide to master budgeting and outsource follow-up. He directed his talent for “mastery” toward the area of greatest satisfaction and, at the same time, his need “to be needed” was not threatened by this decision.
The Motivated Brain was released June 13th 2014 as:
- Kindle-book, and..
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