February 5, 2014 in Events (live blogging), HR Directors Business Summit 2014

Building your own gold mine of world class performance

Rasmus Ankersen – Author and High Performance Anthropologist



Rasmus opened the session by looking at how the best long distance runners in the world come from Ethiopia, and that they come from one village, Bekoji. As he studied this, he discovered that it was common for a stream of world-class athletes to come from one place. Rasmus spent 6 months  living in these places before writing his book, the gold mine effect.


Rasmus talked about his early experiences as a football coach, and of recruiting a player (Simon Kjaer) who subsequently turned out to be a world-class player. Rasmus admitted, though, that Simon was recruited for all the wrong reasons and the people that they had identified as the biggest potential turned out not to be. This raised an interesting question about how to recognise talent and just how hard it is.


“Most companies spend 2% of their time recruiting and 98% of their time managing their recruitment mistakes’ – Richard Fairbank, Capital One CEO


We looked at the Jamaican sprint successes, and how people try to identify the ‘secrets to success’ and how it isn’t down to eating Yams or even genetics. The coach behind the most successful sprinters isn’t a former sprinter, but has a background in Statistics. He talks about ‘a talent that shouts’ (like Usain Bolt, the really obvious talented individuals) and ‘talent that whispers’ (like Shelly-Ann Fraser, who didn’t stand out at first).


1 – Put hunger above skills


We overrate certificates and underrate attitude.


The performance environment doesn’t need to be designed for comfort – The Jamaican sports track is hardly cutting edge and people will go there because they really want to be there. Sometimes, we need to see who wants something the most.


Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour was cited as an example of needing to put the effort in to be great at something.


2 – We fail to assess skill within context


We can often recruit talent on false evidence (like selecting football talent based by school year where the older players can stand out by showing an advantage – age – that means nothing). What you see isn’t always what you get.


Performance = Potential – Interference


Sometimes we need to recruit people who are succeeding in very difficult circumstances. Facebook was cited as an example of a company who recruits ‘talent that whispers’, using an online puzzle that people can take. 20% of Facebook’s software engineers are now recruited via the online puzzle… it helps them find ‘the diamond in the rough’.



Building a gold mine is first and foremost about not wasting talent.

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