Europe is recovering from a crisis, but in the course of this recovery it lacks a competitive edge over other continents. Talent is listed in the EU 2020 Strategy as a competitive value of Europe. We have to face up to the fact that Europe has a huge talent deficit. Firms, governments, countries increasingly search for talent. Many people imagine that this has become a talent war. They believe that the economic crisis has put a premium on talent and that, in a crisis situation, only the best, the geniuses survive – that the winner takes all. This is a widespread misconception.
Europe not only has a huge talent deficit but also an enormous talent reserve. Hundreds of thousands of talented people remain undiscovered each year. Talent-support often concentrates only on geniuses, but the distribution of talent is like a pyramid. It does have a peak – where the very few, the extraordinarily talented are to be found. Like all pyramids, however, the talent pyramid also has a base, in the promise of the pool of talent of the wider population. At the base of the talent-pyramid we find a vast reserve of gifted youth, with a touch of originality. With the right encouragement and with proper support, many could develop in the most promising directions.
Moreover, we have a large multitude of talents. Schools usually discover these only within the subjects taught in the curriculum. The maths teacher sees only students with a flair for mathematics (if any…) and he is blind to talents beyond the scope of his subject. One of my best students, who later won the EU contest for science and innovation, was discovered by the mathematics teacher not because he solved mathematical problems brilliantly, but because he misbehaved – he drew naked women during class. The fact that this was a Catholic school, made such behaviour all the more likely to be punished. Fortunately, this particular teacher was much better than average. He started to think. Why is this little fellow spending so much time doodling? It is possible that he is already suffering from an adolescent excess of testosterone, but perhaps he is simply bored. So he tried giving the boy harder and harder mathematical problems – which he solved easily. He finished the test at a level five times higher than the others. These were the first mathematical problems which actually challenged the misbehaving young boy. And thanks to the curiosity and non-conventional thinking of the teacher, a new talent was born.
At a separate school a different outcome came about through a similar process. The physics teacher was amazed at the quality of the drawings made, subversively, by a pupil in her class. So she alerted her art teacher colleague to the pupil’s potential skill. Thanks to that, the pupil’s hitherto unrecognized gift for drawing could be encouraged, and another talent was born.
We need more talented people for quite another reason, too. The current economic crisis and all the other crisis-waves to come (water, energy, food, migration, etc.) all create completely unexpected situations, for which we will need totally novel solutions. We live in a world where unexpected changes have become an everyday experience. The unpredictable influences of the environment are amplified by the herding behaviour of modern society. “Good customers” follow the crowd, and the behaviour they copy leads to avalanches of decisions. Such behaviour will magnify even such changes which start rather small. The “media-effect” provides an additional, powerful element in this amplification cascade. Only unusual stories make the news. This draws the attention of the majority to minor elements of unusual behaviour, which through the copying mechanism of the crowd may now spread at an amazing speed.
In unexpected situations, the survival of complex systems requires creative behaviour. Thus creative, talented people are our life insurance. Novel solutions require a large diversity of talent. So in fact, there is actually no “winner”, who would “take all”. We need a widespread far-reaching cooperation of many talented people to solve our major problems. This creates not one, but a large number of winners in the future. And we should not forget that we do not know which kind of talents we will need next, so we must treasure them all.
We often think that talent just happens, that talent is something which simply grows, but this is not true. Talent is often hidden, it needs to be discovered, to be nurtured, and to develop in networks, in order to survive and to thrive. Many of those with talent remain undiscovered. The modern concept of talent states that any European citizen may be hiding some talent or another. Talent is like an iceberg. The vast majority of talent is hidden and is only waiting for the right occasion to reveal itself. Any one of us may conceal a treasury of hidden talents, and good teachers know the secret words: “Open sesame!” to liberate this magnificent energy. As many as one third of our students may be talented in any class, and we never know which will reveal her or his talent next. Talent, moreover, can be revealed at any time in our lives. Each novel situation in our life, the birth of our children, our first year of retirement, the birth of our grandchildren, may all liberate novel, hidden talents within us. In conclusion, the word “untalented” should be erased from our vocabulary forever. Europe has hundreds of thousands of gifted students, who lose their chance to live a creative life by the end of their teenager years. This loss is unacceptably large – the loss of a better future for all of us. We have a huge talent reserve. Proper networking helps to find, develop and keep our talents.
Talent-support will not lead to success if we are unable to teach our talented students to appreciate networks. Networking is a must for success in a modern society. Networking not only teaches us how to cooperate, not only introduces us to completely novel skills, information and areas, but also lets us explain our own talent – in a thousand different ways. If we can put our talent into various different contexts, and can show its different values in all of these, the market value (and the success) of our talent will be multiplied. Successful networking techniques never forget that a good network is extremely dynamic. There is an inner core of contacts (our family, our closest friends), which stays stable for decades. The outer shells of our contact-structure, however, continuously fade and recover. There are two major networking strategies: 1.) safety-seeking and 2.) novelty-seeking behaviour. Both are correct, if applied in the right situation. The safety seeker makes contact with the friends of her friends. In this way a tightly interwoven network is built, which is ideal if we speak about the closest family, or we become a member of a new community. In other situations, however, novelty-seeking may bring larger benefits. A novelty-seeker identifies the centres of the group, the opinion-leaders, and builds contacts with them, since they more or less represent the whole group. The novelty-seeker also identifies those unusual members of the group, who are open to building novel contacts. These group-members may be the “envoys” of other, distant groups in the social network, bridging large social distances with their curiosity and openness. These nodes may introduce the novelty-seeker to a completely new group, where he identifies the centres and unusual members again…
Hungary has a Janus-face towards talent. Hungarians have learnt to survive crisis after crisis, ever since the birth of this country more than a thousand years ago. Unexpectedly novel solutions are a commonplace here. This particular habit became less of a boon, more of a burden, during the period when the country had to get used to the Western standards of the modern industrial world, twenty years ago. But the very same habit will prove a treasure for the rest of this century, at a time when mankind has to find entirely novel answers to hitherto unknown challenges. Many segments of the Hungarian education system have extremely high standards and traditions. EU reports list the “supply side”, such as the number of scientists, the quality of public research institutes, etc. as rather high in Hungary. Similarly to this evaluation, a recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the USA (vol. 106, p. 10570) ranked Hungary as 19th of all countries regarding the complexity of its world-trade patterns, which reflects a wide capability-base producing a large variety of goods. But such a promising background does not translate into gross economic productivity, or into innovative products, even measured on a per capita basis. What is missing? The low availability of venture capital is certainly one of the factors identified as a bottleneck in EU reports. I could also add the lack of cooperation, the low level of social trust and the improper evaluation of risks.
There are excellent talent support programs throughout Europe. But most such programs work in isolation, without the benefit of a mutually supporting network. This leads to the very high importance of personal contacts in developing talents. Thousands and thousands of gifted children living in small villages, in underprivileged, Roma, or broken families, remain undiscovered. This is not only morally unacceptable, it is also a waste of the reserves of our society, reserves which would be essential to meet the novel challenges of this century. Even if they succeed in getting off the ground in the first place, talented careers often stumble and fall. A talented child changes town or school, and no information is carried over to the new place about her talent. She may not have the perseverance or self-confidence to fight for recognition again and again. Often the success of a talented person is prevented at the very last step: she is unable to make contact with the “industry”, with entrepreneurs who could convert her remarkable skills to the profit of all.
THE HUNGARIAN GENIUS PROGRAM
The Hungarian Talent Support Council – which I serve as chairperson of – was established five years ago. This is an NGO-umbrella organization establishing talent support cooperation in Hungary and in the neighbouring countries. We promote all types of talent: in science, technology, but also the humanities, arts, sports and crafts. Recent studies established the enormously beneficial effects of musical and physical training on creative behaviour in engineering, for example. Humanities and the arts provide a cultural context which is needed for all types of talent. The juxtaposition of skills which appear on the surface to have nothing or little in common provides an extremely useful way to help the talent of children coming from underprivileged (for example Roma) environments. Their first successes in music, dance, or football often pave the way for later successes in history, mathematics, or as entrepreneurs.
In 2008 the Hungarian Parliament (with only 7 votes against) accepted a 20 year National Talent Support Program. This program is not just a piece of paper.
A National Talent Fund was also established to support these activities. This Fund receives an annual 5 million euro support from the national budget and an additional amount from the tax-donations of citizens, which totaled 1.5 million euros in the first year, and doubled to 3 million euros in the second. The Fund (http://www.tehetsegprogram.hu/node/54) is open for additional donations. The Hungarian Genius Program (www.geniuszportal.hu) is an EU-supported part of the National Talent Support Program run by the Hungarian National Talent Support Council, from 2009 to 2013. The core of this program is the development of a talent support network in the whole Carpathian basin, including Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.
In the last 4 years more than 600 “Talent Points” were established to help talented people recognize and develop their abilities. Talent Points can be nurseries, schools, universities, but may also be chess clubs, football teams, carpentry workshops or even penitentiaries. A Talent Point does not only run its own talent support program, but also serves as an information centre. Anyone may go there or bring a student or child there, who shows some particular promise. Members of the Talent Point help to assess the level of talent and to find adequate support. This is a grass-roots movement. Each week at least a dozen new Talent Points request registration. Talent Points form a network and help each other. These Talent Points have discovered more than 25 thousand talented people in the last two years alone. Talent Points and all other talent support options are listed on the Talent Map of Hungary and neighbouring countries available here: http://geniuszportal.hu/tehetsegterkep
Teachers are key players in the recognition of talents. In the Hungarian Genius Program we are training more than 15 thousand teachers to be aware of the hallmarks of talent, and to arrange adequate help via the nationwide support network. There have been more than 500 Talent Days informing teachers and parents of the novel possibilities. Such a Talent Day serves as a crystallization point for the local talent support community. A recent development is the grass-roots establishment of Talent Support Councils. These Councils organize local support options, as well as the cooperation of whole areas, like those of mathematical, musical, Roma talents or talents requiring special needs education. The value of enthusiastically pursued, high-quality work, perseverance, proper risk taking, Big-Thinking, long-term planning and cooperation are all promoted by talent fostering in Hungary. According to the evaluation of Professor Franz Mönks, a former chair of the European Council of High Ability, Hungary now has the best nationwide integrated program of talent support in Europe.
EUROPEAN DIMENSIONS OF TALENT SUPPORT
In April 2011 the first EU Presidential Conference on talent support took place here in Hungary. Experts and government officials from 24 European countries listed their best practices in talent support. Participants in the conference accepted the Budapest Declaration on Talent Support. This calls on EU member states to establish an EU network of Talent Points and to celebrate a European Talent Day. In 2012 an EU Talent Support Centre will be established in Budapest serving the organization of EU-wide cooperation in talent support. Ireland was the first to declare a National Talent Awareness Day, but the governments of Poland and Denmark (whose EU presidency follows that of Hungary in 2011 and 2012), as well as Finland, and experts from Germany and the UK are all building talent support networks. So far 10 European countries have joined this movement (www.TalentDay.eu). We warmly encourage talent support communities to join this network, and share their good practices. A group of Hungarian European Parliament members plans to submit a proposal for a non-legislative action supporting talent in the European Parliament.
THE END OF THE BRAIN-DRAIN, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF
A WORLD-WIDE TALENT SUPPORT NETWORK
Talent support has gained momentum recently: the US Congress has debated a Talent Act as an amendment to the “No child left behind” program (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s857/show), and after a nationwide discussion involving 30 thousand people, China accepted a talent support program in 2010 which aims to reach 50 million people over 10 years (http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2010/1123_china_talent_wang.aspx).
Do such developments signal a new battle in the war for talents? Not necessarily. If we learn to develop a world-wide talent support network, we may discover the huge reserves of talent that mankind has. The brain-drain is a zero-sum game.
It is high time to expand the talent pool, and to change it into a win-win world-wide talent discovery game.
Contact: National Talent Point
H–1507 Budapest, P.O.Box 1, Hungary
E-mail: [email protected]