Do We Value Talent or Effort?

The New Statesman (13 August 2012) featured an interesting article on “The Olympic Afterglow” by Ed Smith. As described in a summary of the current issue the article provides a left-of-centre perspective on the Olympic Games:

Team GB could not have won many of its medals without the support of the state. Only a few sports can nurture elite athletes (and their coaches, equipment and nutritionists) in a free market; most require handouts from the taxpayer.

But it was the issues of “talent” and “effort” which I found most interesting. The article explains how:

“Talent” has often been used as a dirty word, replaced by nouns with a clear moral dimension – guts, determination, sacrifice. The message is clear: medals should be earned by an effort of willpower, preferably a triumph over adversity.

The article went on to challenges such views:

Yet the natural human instinct – what viewers feel before they are told what to think – is to thrill to raw talent whenever we see it. Usain Bolt cheerfully admits that Yohan Blake trains much harder. “But I have a talent”, Bolt adds truthfully. And it is his talent that is so wonderful. he is one of the world’s most popular sportsmen because he has not been dulled by the platitudes of professionalism. At the Beijing Olympic in 200m, in the 100 metres final, he stopped trying at 70 metres. In London, he sprinted almost for the full 100 metres. But he never lost his boyish incredulity at his own brilliance. Nor have we.

I suspect it was the New Statesman’s copy deadlines which meant that they didn’t include any references to Usain Bolt’s late night celebration’s after winning the 100 metres, but before competing in the 200 metres and 4×100 metres relay races. This was described in The Telegraph under the headline: Usain Bolt celebrates 100m gold with Swedish women’s handball team with Bolt himself supplying the accompanying photograph.

Roundheads and Cavaliers

The article reminded me of a programme on BBC 4 entitled Roundhead or a Cavalier? Which Are You? which I had been alerted to recently. The BBC Web site provides the following summary of the programme:

In the middle of the 17th century, Britain was devastated by a civil war that divided the nation into two tribes – the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. In this programme, celebrities and historians reveal that modern Britain is still defined by the battle between the two tribes. The Cavaliers represent a Britain of panache, buy cheap topamax online pleasure and individuality. They are confronted by the Roundheads, who stand for modesty, discipline, equality and state intervention.

Updating this to our current environment this could begin:

In the early part of the 21st century, the UK’s higher education sector is mildly agitated by disagreements that are dividing the sector into two tribes 

with those who take up the freedom and opportunities provided by blogs, Twitter and other social media services in encouraging individualistic approaches to their work continuing the Cavalier tradition, but encountering resistance from Roundheads who wish to see a continuation of the modest, disinterested and managed approaches to such activities and are willing to endorse institutional interventions in order to ensure such traditions continue.

This reminded me of my recent paper on “Can LinkedIn and Enhance Access to Open Repositories?“. In my one-minute summary of the paper, available on Vimeo, I described how I responded to our Pro Vice-Chancellor’s question on how I had managed to have the largest number of downloads in the University of Bath by saying “Simple, it’s about the incoming links from LinkedIn and and similar services“. But repository managers don’t appear to be proactive in encouraging researchers to link to papers in open access repositories, unlike commercial publishers who, we have found, do encourage researchers to link to papers hosted behind the publishers’ paywalls. “Why! tell me why?” I asked at the end of the summary.

I think I now understand the reason why. Some people don’t choose to make use of simple solutions to provide professional benefits because of their Roundhead tendencies and feel benefits should only be gained after hard work and discipline. On the other hand I’ll admit to being a Cavalier and am happy to use technologies which work for me, even – no, especially – if they don’t require any hard work. So for me using the social media service which works is the ideal. if you’re a Roundhead you’re more likely to prefer the hard work and disciplined approaches which installing open source software on you own server and the domain you manage.

I’ll also admit to admiring the Cavaliering approach taken by Usain Bolt who won 3 Gold medals in less than 2 minutes of competitive racing at the Olympics (with times for partying between races) to the Roundheads’ hero, Mo Farah, who spent almost an hour winning his 2 gold medals at the Olympics.

What approach do you prefer?  [polldaddy poll=6475712]

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