Managing Talent


Tuesday 9 March 2010

Sir Ken Robinson

Managing Talent: An audience with the author of 'The Element'

Blue Fin Venue, London

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An exclusive audience gathered at the top of the Blue Fin Building for a very special event with Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson speaks as if addressing every member of the audience personally; he puts everyone at ease with his soft liverpudlian lilt and witty anecdotes that never fail to make you laugh out loud.

One of the leading thinkers on creativity and innovation, Robinson’s talk focussed on how to manage talent. He argued that misconceptions of what creativity means prevents the nurturing of human talent within organisations. Robinson defines creativity as the “process of having original ideas that have value." A manager’s role is to “develop the creativity of every company member.”

We are told at school, “‘Don’t talk to anybody else,’” said Robinson, “because that’s cheating – outside of schools that’s called collaboration.” Collaboration is often a great driver of creativity; Robinson used the Beatles and Monty Python as examples. However, creative groups do have an expiry date, he suggested. Whilst it is important to connect with people that share your passion, the productivity of a group does end. Robinson said he once asked John Cleese what he believed the life cycle of a creative group is; Cleese’s answer was ten years.

“Human talent is often very deep” continued Robinson, it is necessary to create opportunities for people that finds and develops it. “So many organisations have a restrictive culture,” he said. By contrast, General Electric and Proctor & Gamble have effective innovation strategies. “We’re all born with expansive imaginations,” and those companies whose culture permits employees to conceive new ideas are successfully managing talent. Google, for example, allows its people “20% of their time to develop new projects.”

Managing talent isn’t just about the people that work for you, insists Robinson, “To manage other people’s talents, you need to manage your own first.” On a personal level, “people often have a narrow view of what success is,” he said. Often, it is the image of success that people chase and as a result most adults are unaware of their own potential.

“We are living in times that are unprecedented,” said Robinson, who believes that humanity is facing two crises: A crisis of natural resources and a crisis of human resources. Both crises have risen from the same cause – industrialisation. Robinson argues that we have become industrialised as a result, and subsequently so have our education systems and our companies.

Importantly for the London Business Forum, Robinson explained that the role of HR is crucial for the future of business. The true function of HR is often neglected and needs to be redefined: “HR is a strategic function not service; it’s about what you do with people.