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Goldmine effect - How to create an environment of elite performance

Goldmine effect - How to create an environment of elite performance

2nd February

Rasmus is a world renowned author and speaker on the subjects of talent identification and high performance cultures. Combining expert knowledge with ground breaking research in areas such as Jamaican sprinting, Ethiopian middle distance running and Brazilian football, Rasmus' research is respected across numerous fields of sport and business alike.

Your book, the Goldmine Effect was one of the first that looked to prove it was possible to 'create' an environment of elite sporting performance rather than it be designated by DNA; has your experience in both business and sporting environments since the book augmented this view?

I am strong believer in the power of an environment that nurtures talent, but I don’t dismiss that DNA matters. Here is how I look at it: Innate talent is most often the access ticket to the game, but it is not the decisive factor for who will become best. For example, to become a world class sprinter you need a certain amount of fast twitch muscle fibres which we know is largely down to genetics. In that sense great sprinters are born. But at the same time it is important to understand that just because you are born with a lot of fast twitch muscle fibres doesn’t mean you will necessarily become among the world’s best sprinters. Without a burning desire, good coaching, an inspiring environment and an ability to improve it will not happen. In that way you can argue that DNA cannot tell you anything about who will become the world’s best. It can only tell you who will not.

The key reasons why the gold mines I visited produce a disproportionate amount of top athletes is in my opinion that the best athletes in those environments end up doing the same thing. The fastest people in Jamaica become sprinters. The best athletes in Canada becomes ice hockey players. And the most enduring people in Ethiopia become long distance runners. If Usain Bolt was born in the US he would never have been a sprinter, but probably a wide receiver in American football or maybe even a basketball player because he is so tall. In that way these gold mines are a product of culture, environment and genetics coming together.

Based on your research, what key characteristics would you advise a coach to look for when identifying young talent?

Don’t look at what people are now. Instead focus on what they can become. Current high performance doesn’t necessarily equals high potential. Lots of coaches get this wrong. The most important thing with identifying talent is to be clear of what potential indicators look like, for example desire, training environment, stages of physical development, parents etc.

Do you think that athletes in more affluent Western countries are at a disadvantage to those raised in poorer environments?
If you are trying to get away from poverty your motivation can be very strong, but often is ofte short term. What happens when you have your basic needs met? Where is the motivation then going to come from? Thats why you see quite a lot of Kenyan runners as well as Brazilian footballers who manage to become successful, but fail to stay successful. They feel they have arrived.

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Which key characteristics did you see most consistently within the elite coaches you met during your research for the Goldmine Effect?

They understand that is is not about them. It is about the athletes. You have to win through others as a coach, and the coaches of the gold mines understand that art very well. And most of them had never been top athletes themselves, which I think is an advantage in many ways, because ex-athletes tend to think that what worked for me will work for everyone else. If you haven’t been a top athletes yourself you are much more likely to look at athletes individually and ask: what does this unique individual need from me to succeed?

How have you looked to apply your experience researching the book into a business environment and what results have you seen?

I think businesses can learn a lot from the gold mines when it comes to identifying and developing talent. A lot of the principles I describe in my book are not really about sports. They describe the underlying methods of finding undervalued talent for example, and they can be applied to a business environment too. How do you as a company spot the talent your competitors overlook? And how do you create an environment with role models where they can fulfil their potential?

Do you believe the modern day generation of constant IT and social media has negatively affected athletes mental strength and ability to focus without distraction?

Yes, I believe it affects concentration and recovery. In Bekoji (Ethiopia) and Iten (Kenya) there is not many distractions. As an athlete you train, eat and sleep - and then you do it over and over again. And when you recover you are not on Facebook. You sleep. I think one of the most overlooked factors when people are trying to explain the success of the east african runners is exactly this. In those parts of the world you have a lot of people who can commit themselves to a lifestyle where they basically only train, eat and sleep, for example because the living costs are so low. I mean, in Iten you can survive for 2 pounds per week, which allows a lot of people to practice that type of full commitment life style. For two pounds in London you would be dead after two days.

What rules does your latest book, Hunger in Paradise look to prove that are applicable in both sporting and business environments?

As the philosopher T.S. Eliot said: “The great ages didn’t contain more talent, but they wasted less.” It is true I believe and the gold mines are the evidence. There was not suddenly born more sprinting talent in Jamaica than anywhere else. And there was not suddenly more golf genes in Korea than anywhere else in the world. The truth is that it could happen anywhere. The reason why gold mines are gold mines is because they waste less talent.