Finding gold amongst the garbage
Simon Cowell (reality TV judge), Eddie Jones (England’s rugby coach), George Anders (author and business journalist) all have something in common? Each of them champions a precious and innate skill – the ability to spot winners amongst the also-rans.
Simon Cowell talking to Rolling Stone magazine about One Direction:
“I had a good feeling when they came to my house in Spain and performed after about a millionth of a second………They just had it. They had this confidence. They were fun. They worked out the arrangements themselves. They were like a gang of friends, and kind of fearless as well”
George Anders, from his book, ‘The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else’:
“When great assessors watch a candidate in action, they aren’t just looking for a momentary flash of brilliance. They are hunting for dozens of small clues that show how and why someone succeeds. That’s where character is revealed.”
Eddie Jones, manager of England’s record breaking rugby team, is about to take the team on a summer tour to Argentina. He is leaving behind Christian Wade, record try scorer from table topping team, Wasps, where he has played for the last 6 years. Instead he is taking a 19-year-old unknown called Joe Cokanisaga who has never played in the top division.
Spotting potential in people or ideas is central to the creative process and there are three core skills:
1. Great Spotters have a very clear picture of what the end result might look like.
Simon Cowell had identified the core components of a commercially successful boy band well before the creation of One Direction. George Anders knows which specific personal, interpersonal and intellectual attributes make up the ideal candidate. Eddie Jones has a strong vision of the mental and physical qualities of a top-class rugby player. In the case of Cokanisaga, ‘delicate footwork’ and ‘subtlety as well as strength’.
2. Great Spotters are comfortable dealing with an abundance of stimulus.
Cowell, Anders and Jones all relish looking at dozens of people in the hope of spotting the winners. When you are crystal clear about what ‘makes for good’ you are not bamboozled by the forest of data in front of you. Your experience and intuition help you spot the needles in the haystacks, because you instinctively know what you are looking for.
3. Great Spotters are skilful at connecting different pieces of information together
and developing a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. Remember that each one of the One Direction members had failed to progress through to the next stages of the competition as individuals. The magic was in the mix and Simon Cowell was able to see the exciting potential of the combination.
A few years back, I ran an innovation workshop for Lloyds Bank Insurance division. A group of loud and extraverted marketers spent 30 minutes brainstorming random ideas for a new product. At the end of this session, the wall was covered with a daunting display of scrawny post-it notes. The group viewed the gallery they had created with a ‘so what now?’ bemused look on their faces.
A more introverted marketing analyst had been sitting down, simply listening and observing. He then got up quietly, picked out three post-it notes from different parts of the wall, and verbally articulated a strong and coherent idea. He knew what ‘good’ looked like. He loved data. He was able to connect in order to create.
There is no doubt that the creative process requires rich stimulus as its foundation. However, it is the skills of the Spotter that are required to find the gold in the garbage.