What is talent?
Is it an innate ability or capacity for greatness, which needs to be developed?
I lean towards the latter. As journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell explained in his book Outliers, success is not a simple derivative of natural ability be it in business, sport or arts. It takes practice, supportive environment and time to develop talent. And yet we tend to compliment people for being “talented” rather than praise them for tenacity, hard work or simply for being brave and giving something a go.
This summer the artist Marina Abramović spent 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery, engaging with visitors. British Athlete Jo Pavey won the 10,000m gold medal at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich, ten months after giving birth to her second child, to become the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 days. Both women put in a lot more than just talent to achieve career heights.
Just how much talent do we actually need to achieve success or fulfilment? We went on to explore with three wonderful guests: Vivienne Clore, Lois Pryce and Susan Ma.
Vivienne Clore joined a theatre talent agency The Richard Stone Partnership as a secretary, starting with a typewriter and dictations, and working up to becoming a partner with her own client list, including such names as Jo Brand, Joan Collins, Bridget Christie, chefs Michael Caines and John Burton Race. With over 30 years in the business, Vivienne knows how to spot talent.
For her talent is a natural ability, and her role as an agent is to help nurture and grow it. Vivienne is convinced that women make better talent agents because of their greater empathy, ability to listen and multitask. She credits her own success to the fact that she had always loved being around creative people and that she is naturally more inclined towards putting other people into the spotlight.
Lois Pryce ditched her job at BBC at the age of 29 and set off on a two-wheel adventure from Alaska to Ushuaia in 2003. She does not rate herself as a naturally born motorcyclist but she enjoys it: “all the thrills of movement, travel and adventure, and the simple idle pleasures of just sitting and thinking in the great outdoors. You can’t beat it!” For Lois, adventure is a personal thing, “it means whatever you want it to”. She discovered her passion for travel writing and has since published two books: Lois on the Loose about her American adventure and Red Tape and White Knuckles about Africa.
On the night Lois talked about her simple lifestyle, living with her husband on a boat, having had to take on temporary jobs, even working as a motorcycle courier in London. But she has found creative fulfilment in travelling and writing about it, running a travel film festival with her husband and giving talks around the world.
Susan Ma has quite a story to tell. From the stalls of the Greenwich market, Susan grew her natural skincare brand Tropic to turn over £3 million in 2013. Lord Sugar, who had partnered with her even though Susan had lost in the final of the 2010 Apprentice series, must be pleased.
During the interview, Susan told us about her challenging childhood in the communist Shanghai, then in Sydney where she had to teach herself English before moving to Britain with her mother to start all over again. Susan believes talent is something one grows and develops and that we are all capable of achieving tremendous heights, provided we are hungry for it.
Susan talked about the Apprentice with great enthusiasm describing the contest as a crash course in entrepreneurship, with access to incredible perks and learning opportunities. She came out knowing she wants to grow her own business and succeed. She did, and she is now helping other women supplement their household income through social selling of Tropic skincare. (By the way, the products are amazing, try ordering a few from the Tropic website).
It was a inspiring night, hosted at the beautiful Grace Belgravia, where women (and a couple of men!) of the Ladies Who Impress community gathered once again to celebrate talented(!), tenacious and successful yet grounded female role models.
You don’t need buckets of talent to brave something new or achieve fulfilment. A dash of it is just about right. Talent might be the opening but it’s courage, perseverance and hard work that make all the difference.
I’d like to leave you with a quote by Henry van Dyke:
“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”