Juggling the ‘shiny balls’ of life

I’ve just read a guest post on the blog of the doctoral adviser site The Thesis Whisperer entitled ‘Shiny Balls’.   It’s a rational reflection by a young mother on how difficult it is to juggle all those balls of life in the air. She tells of the different parts of her life (the shiny balls) and the mundane practices that must have attention. The cakes to be baked for birthday parties, the three part time academic jobs she has to do to build up her cv, etc etc.  at the end of her list is her Phd work.

Before I read that post I had just answered a text message telling me about the death of an old friend – the third in three weeks. In my response I had written ‘Carpe diem’.  An easy and trite response you might say. But for me ‘Sieze the day’ really means ‘Seize the practices of your day’. Those mundane, habitual actions that make up our fleeting days. Here are ten practices at the beginning of my day, from the moment I wake up to the time I get started on my day:

1. Listen to the dawn chorus of kookaburras and butcher birds then rise.

2. Make tea and return to bed.

3. Think of where I am with my current life projects.
3. Arrange my day in the diary in my head.

4. Read my emails, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

5. Respond to any of these.

6. Read the latest text I need for my academic writing.

7. Write notes for myself.

8. Remember  those in my life who need some love and attention today.

9. Construct my ‘Three most important things’ action list for that day.
10. Rise. 

As I review my early morning habitual practice, I count my blessings that the context of my life enables such luxuries as reflection, thinking, writing, reading and planning.  I also note that all of these practices take place in one hour.

It is important that we examine our mundane practices as objects of consideration because such self-analysis shows us where we are making choices about what decisions we are making, why we are making them and what we should do next. Only then can we see if what we are doing is right for what we ultimately want out of lives

What is the difference between talent and genius?

Are geniuses born or made?

Jack Kerouac, American, Beat Generation author and poet, gave us early thoughts on that well-worn management question, ‘Are managers ‘born’ or ‘made’?’ when he wrote his 1962 essay for Writer’s Digest titled “Are Writers Made or Born?” (see Maria Popova‘s usual insightful essays on JK for a discussion on this topic). It was in this essay that he gave some deep thinking to considering writers who could be described as geniuses (e.g. Shakespeare, Melville and Whitman) and the genesis of their talent.

Kerouac argues that geniuses are born and those with talent are made, saying that the word genius ‘…is derived from the Latin word gignere (to beget)’, that ‘a genius is simply a person who originates something never known before’, that geniuses are the originators and talent the interpreters of that genius’ work’, so, essentially, ‘genius gives birth, talent delivers’.

Is exceptional talent a pre-cursor to genius?

Others, such as Chamorro-Premuzic, von Stumm, Furnham and Simonton, also discuss the different views taken between genius and talent, at times taking genius as an end result of developing exceptional talent.  Other titbits they provide on genius (and its relationship with talent) are:

  • The use of the word ‘genius’ can be tracked back to antiquity. It is derived from Latin. In Roman mythology each person was said to be born with a guardian spirit, called genius, the meaning of which is superlative intelligence and extraordinary achievement.
  • Galton’s Hereditary genius was the first scientific study of genius.


  • Francis Galton:
    • believed individuals differed in “natural ability,” that these individual differences, being distributed in general population;
    • saw genius as related to eminence or reputation, having made a name for themselves in some domain of human achievement
    • took genius to comprise three distinct categories: exceptional creativity, phenomenal leadership and prodigious accomplishments;
    • took genius and talent to be intimately related concepts.
    • Genius equates to superlative intelligence, one recognized definition of genius – relates to a person’s intelligence quotient, or IQ score, of 140 or above, minimum threshold for ascription. Other methods for measuring genius are psychometric and historiometric. [Galton’s work had a dark history].
  • Poet Owen Meredith (the pseudonym of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of Lytton, Viscount Knebworth of Knebworth, 2nd Baron Lytton of Knebworth) said ‘Genius does what it must, and Talent does what it can’ (Owen Meredith)
  • “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius”; and “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).
  • Situational factors are as critical for the manifestation of genius than individual factors – determining when and where exceptional talent becomes exceptional genius.


Malcolm Gladwell provides a list of American talent , 14 of whom all emerged within nine years of each other in the 19th century. 

The debates go on…

Developing scientific and technical talent has become a contemporary debate in educational circles and research in this area has thrown up interesting counter-findings to the well-worn discussions that practice makes for improvements in talents (and by implication, that practice encourages genius).  See Malcolm Gladwell’s work on Outliers for an interesting read:



“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

On tools for career and talent management: Career anchors and job/role planning:

Probably arising out of my long-time work on electronic HRM, I have always had an interest in the ‘tools of the management trade’.  The notion of tool ‘is a generic name for frameworks, concepts, models, or methods’(Jarzabkowski and Kaplan, 2014; 538) and for some considerable time strategic models have been used as a lens to begin and develop an organisation’s strategic journey (Chesley and Wenger, 1999). Well-known strategy tools include Porter’s Five Forces, ‘which codify knowledge about strategy making within structured approaches to strategy analysis, often through some form of propositional or visual representation (March, 2006; Worren et al., 2002)’  (Jarzabkowski and Kaplan, 2014; 538).

Such tools aid the structuring of management strategic thinking (Worren et al., 2002). and they have been called “technologies of rationality” because ‘they offer models of causal structures, provide spaces for collecting data, and establish decision rules for selecting among alternatives (March, 2006) and they support what Simon (1978: 9) calls “procedural rationality” to help actors make rational choices for the firm given the limits of human cognitive powers (Cabantous and Gond, 2011)’ (Jarzabkowski and Kaplan, 2014; 538).

Anchor your career
Career anchors… a suitable tool for talent management?

One of the few papers on talent management tools is Career anchors and job/role planning: Tools for career and talent management by Ed Schein and John Van Maanen.

A “career anchor” is a combination of perceived areas of competence, motives, and values relating to professional work choices.  The Career Anchors instrument is designed to help clients identify their anchors and to think about how their values relate to their career choices. (Schein and Van Maanen, 2013)

The authors raise a concern that talent management doesn’t really take account the individual’s desires about what they want out of a career, even though organisations are finding it increasingly difficult ‘to define jobs and “work,” wisely allocate people to jobs, manage retention, and develop the talent needed to get the work done effectively’ (2016; 1).

The paper contains information on the concepts of “career anchors” and “job/role planning”, discusses how these can be used in talent development practice to both aid the career of the individual as well as aiding the HR function achieve a better match between the needs of the individual and the needs of the organization. Unlike many papers on talent management, then, the authors do go some way to describing actual practices in getting a balance between the wants/career needs of talent and the strategic requirements of the organisation.

They discuss and explain the associated tools they have developed for career development and job/role planning. The career anchor concept has been developed to produce a Career Anchors self-development exercise, available in a fairly recent book called ‘Career Anchors: The changing nature of work and careers’, 4th ed. New York: Wiley, by Schein, E. H. & Van Maanen, J. (2013).

They don’t supply tools in this paper but they do show ‘how the concepts of “career anchors” and “job/role planning” can help individual career occupants and the human resource function achieve a better match between the needs of the individual and the needs of the organization’ (2016; p1).

Source: Career anchors and job/role planning: Tools for career and talent management

I was particularly interested in the actual career anchors and the questions posed to participants about what they would not want to give up in their careers (p2 in the paper):

(1) General managerial competence (GM): in which one would not give up the opportunity to direct the activities of others and climb to higher levels in an organization.

(2) Technical functional competence (TF) in which one would not give up the opportunity to apply and sharpen one’s skills in a particular line of work.

(3) Entrepreneurial creativity (EC) in which one would not give up the opportunity to create an enterprise or organization of one’s own.

(4) Autonomy/independence (AU) in which one would not give up the opportunity to define one’s own work in one’s own way.

(5) Security/stability (SE) in which one would not give up the opportunity to have employment certainty or tenure in a job.

(6) Service/dedication to a cause (SV) in which one would not give up the opportunity to pursue work that one believes contributes something of value in the larger society.

(7) Pure challenge (CH) in which one would not give up the opportunity to work on solutions to seemingly difficult problems, to win out over worthy opponents, or to overcome difficult obstacles.

(8) Lifestyle (LS) in which one would not give up the opportunity to integrate and balance personal and family needs while meeting the requirements of a work career.

The subsequent discussion about how the answers given could be linked to job/role modelling is worth reading the paper for addressing talent management strategy and practice.  What is not discussed in more detail, and this is the same in many other talent management papers, is what the implications are for talent development interventions following the identification of individual talent’s career anchors.  Food for thought.

Employee perceptions of the talent management message…

I am currently doing a bit of a ‘deep dive’ into the academic literature on talent management and finding quite a bit of interesting material.  The paper by Bish et al from the latest American Academy of Management is one such paper:

Bish, Adelle & Jorgensen, Frances (2016) Employee perceptions of the talent management message: Case analyses in Danish SMEs. In 76th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, 5-9 August 2016, Anaheim, CA.

Source: Employee perceptions of the talent management message: Case analyses in Danish SMEs | QUT ePrints

In their study they consider employees’ perceptions of their organizations’ talent management message in their qualitative, multiple case study of nine SMEs in Denmark, ’employees’ perceptions of their organizations’ talent management message prior to and after being employed and how these before and after perceptions influence their current attitudes and behaviors’. Their findings suggest that

‘while externally oriented talent management messages in SMEs may mimic those of large organizations, internal messages may be far less explicit and formalized in SMEs. Further, there appeared to be a high level of incongruence between internal and external talent management messages in these SMEs. Significantly, the perceived impact of gaps between the external and internal talent management messages on employees’ attitudes and behaviors seemed however to be mitigated by value alignment.’

It is nice to see papers on talent management which consider TM from a differently sized organisational point of view – here it is SMEs.  I see this not only adding to talent management literature per se but also to employer branding literature, a very interesting field which links to talent identity as well as talent management.

The UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) define employer branding as:

‘‘…a set of attributes and qualities, often intangible, that makes an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience, and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture’  (CIPD, accessed 6 September, 2016).

(and they are offering a free employer brand Factsheet). 


Australian Spring is here..

It’s Spring and time for closure of winter writing projects such as academic journal articles and do time on those longer term projects, in my case spending the bulk of my writing time on my book.  

Over the winter I have been collecting content for the book by populating the writing database tool ‘Scrivener‘ and have 80,000 words now. However, as a ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter’, this activity means many hours crafting in light of my new conceptual framework.  

My learning so far 

1. If I hadn’t been using Scrivener to collect information/knowledge in pieces I would be sitting looking at empty page today.

2. When I lost motivation I listened to podcasts such as ‘So you want to be a writer?’ by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait, both successful journalists and authors who provide the latest in news, opportunities, trends – and gossip – in the world of writing blogging and publishing.  

3. Reading accessible writers on writing, like Natalie Goldberg (e.g. Writing down the Bones’ )

4. That old advice to put in at least an hour a day writing helps too. 
Back to the PC now!