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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 23 September 2012

Inspiring a generation? It's not just about more sport.

It was my pleasure to be invited along to an excellent fundraising event by SHYPP (Supported Housing for Young People Project) on friday, to offer a few words of encouragement to set the context for their charity auction. It's slightly odd, but I get more invites to speak abroad and to work with other organisations than I ever do to speak for the Foyer Federation or for Foyers, so I was really pleased to be able to lend a hand for the fantastic SHYPP Foyer services in Hereford, Leominster and Ross.  It was all the more a privilege to follow some inspiring opening words from a former Foyer resident, who spoke movingly about the positive transition they had made in their life. My theme for the night was about investing in talent. The text below is not a copy of my speech, for which I had no script, but contains  some of the ideas and thoughts I drew from  during my 10-15 minutes, minus the jokes about my confused 1.5hour walk from the railway station to be there...

Talent is not an elitist concept. It’s not just for the XFactor and Eaton. We are the talent – we all have a talent – and life is about finding and expressing our talent for the good of ourselves and others.

The Greeks were the first to use the word talent as a unit of measure. A talent meant an amount of silver equivalent to about 9 years-worth of skilled labour. What is the price of a young person’s talent so they can have 9 years and more of skilled labour in today’s challenging environment?  How do we invest in the talent young people have, so they can thrive, and by doing so, enable our society to flourish?

It is a testament to everything that is wrong in our society that we don’t ask that question enough, that we write endless blank cheques to pay for the support required to keep someone, who has not expressed their talent, in a lifelong dependency.  Look beyond the stereotypes and you see it is the failure of the adults to care for and manage talent in young people that defines our society.  We have not put the systems in place to ensure that everyone can find and harness their talent. It’s our social system that isn’t working, not just the young people within it.

How do we create something better? The Greeks were also, of course, the inventor of the Olympics, and we could do well to turn to the forerunner for today’s international Olympic committee down in Shropshire where, in 1850, Brooks established what he called The Olympian Class - "for the promotion of moral, physical and intellectual improvement".  On similar terms, we could create our Olympian talent class, to promote the talent of young people and encourage the community to be part of its development. It's what the Foyer Federation is trying to build through our Open Talent work.

The end of the Olympics has seen a stream of articles highlighting the contrast between our investment in the successful medal winning team, and the lack of investment in basic sporting facilities and opportunities for large groups of young people. This is an Olympic legacy issue. But inspiring a generation is not just about playing more sport. It’s also about what we can achieve in life, as individuals, as teams together, and as a community for each other.  There is a bigger legacy issue at stake here in the Olympics: how we can be inspired to think differently about how we invest in our next generation to ensure that more people can perform to their potential in life to the benefit of all – whether through sport, the arts, digital technology, business, and the thousand different talents we express our working lives.

In our medal success at the Olympics, we can see a simple equation: high quality coaching to develop skills, coupled with targeted investment in resources and opportunities, together with a supportive community of practice with high aspirations, generates the advantages required to succeed. It is a winning formula. It is the formula that drives successful talent development strategies in business as much as it is used in sport. So why is this formula not used in the sphere it is most needed – the social sphere, where talented young people battle inside a system and a way of thinking which is geared around limiting their problems instead of nurturing their potential?

The Olympics is hugely expensive – but an Olympian advantaged thinking approach need not be.  We spend billions of pounds on supporting people to cope with disadvantages, when we could spend less to enable them to thrive through their talent.  It is a question of values, of putting a value – both moral and economic – on the lives of our young people.  Putting a value on what a positive future costs, against the cost of dependency and low aspiration. The Olympics shows us what a systematic approach to nurturing talent can create.  What would be truly inspirational is to use that approach where it is needed most, where it can have a generational impact. If we value life, if we have values in our life, then we must ensure each and every young person has access to the right investments to create a better future for us all.  Clare Balding claims the Olympics changed us as people. If it has, then as changed people we need to change the disadvantaged thinking paradigm that is preventing people from realising their talents. 

You only need to turn two letters around in the word latent to produce the word talent. That’s the shift that Open Talent services are trying to make in young people; that’s the shift we are trying to make in the thinking of funders, charities, and society: to believe we can turn latent into talent. The average ticket price to watch a London Olympics event was £40. What is the cost of the ticket to open a young person’s ability, to invest in their life?  What is the cost of us not contributing to that?  One thing for sure –  a positive future for all our young people is worth so much to our sustainability as a planet, we simply can't afford not to achieve it.

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