Kateřina Novotná & Jan Mühlfeit


Many authors claim that everything we do comes down to whether we have the talent to do so. Many others, such as Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, or Geoff Colvin in a publication “Talent is Overrated”, state that if we dedicate ten-thousand hours to a certain task, we will achieve mastery. In our opinion, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

If one is to become a master in an activity, it depends on several aspects. The first is of course, talent, which is very closely linked to hard work. That leads us to the second crucial point, hard work: to which we can use talent in the right way. The third element is the time we are able to spend in flow; where we use our natural talent even in extreme conditions.


Talent is a part of the genetic code that we gain from previous generations. As each of us are equipped with genes, it means we all have predispositions to be successful in something. So, the right question is not about whether we have talent, but what we have it for. Early signs of talent appear at an early age, when children intuitively show love for some activities. For example, if a child plays with a toy very often, it means that the activity gives him some energy. On the contrary, activities that do not interest the child, take energy and talent from them. Therefore, it is ideal to monitor the relationship of the child to the individual activities; therefore making it easier to determine which activities the child is pre-conditioned for. Just as genes do not unlock themselves, although develop through environmental exposure, talent must be awakened in some way as well. In order to turn talent into a strength, we need to invest time and work on its development. One of my talents (according to Gallup Strengths Finder) is communication. Thanks to my great-grandmother actively speaking to me as a toddler, I was able to rapidly develop good communication skills. As a result, by the age of five, I was able to interpret adult jokes without a sense of shyness. Another of my talents is critical thinking, although I was not aware of that until I started working with Microsoft. These examples clearly portray how important the environment is in helping us discover and develop our talents.


An indispensable element is flow: a state in which we make the most of our natural talent even under extreme conditions. In other words, we do what we enjoy, and become completely absorbed by it. Well-known epigeneticist claims that children under six years spend ninety percent of their time in hypnosis (flow). In this state, they involve all senses; therefore learning quickly and easily. The alpha and omega of the flow moment is the present moment; during which all doubts and track of time disappears. Amygdala, the emotional part of the brain, keeps alerting us on where we can fail, which results in unnecessarily stress and restriction of our performance. During the flow, the amygdala calms down. If we are in a state of complete focus (the here and now), we use our complete set of senses and have no doubt towards our success. According to expert studies, we are able to learn up to four hundred and fifty percent faster in this state. At the same time, human creativity increases by up to four hundred percent, and productivity by five hundred percent. The more talent we have, the more we train and the more we are in a state of flow, the faster we can master that activity.


With children, it is necessary to observe what activities they choose and what they ultimately enjoy. At a later stage, through various testing, it is possible to discover what specific strengths children have. For example, in the ‘Unlock Children’s Potential’ course, we use the strength test to further clarify individual talents. Furthermore, it is important to allow children to develop their talents as much as possible, through frequent encouragement. This ultimately means letting them spend time with other children who have similar talents or hobbies, whilst providing positive reinforcement. Generally speaking, if a person has a very strong emotional bond to an activity, they get into a state of flow easier. As a team member of tennis player; Jiří Leheček, I had the opportunity to attend the US Open, where I was able to witness the training of Rafael Nadal, whom I later met briefly. Ninety percent of Rafael ́s activity is in the state of flow, even during a generalised warm-up, which is potentially why he achieved mastery much faster than others.


It is not just about the grades or cup awards from sporting competitions, optimal performance is only possible if we are personally successful and content at the same time throughout the entire process. There is a big difference between motivation, i.e. medals, results and grades, and inspiration, which represents a deep emotional attachment to the activity and enables good results in the long term. To be successful and content in the long term, it is necessary, not only to get into the flow, but also to maintain that state. This ultimately requires sufficient mental resistance with which we can work through four basic tools. The first is our body, which we must work with in order to produce the right hormones to support our self-confidence. The second is breath control, more specifically, deep breathing, which has the ability to bring us back to the present moment and calm the amygdala. There are several breathing exercises, we teach at our courses and seminars, which can assist in strengthening mental resistance. The third is thinking. It should always be remembered that one does not lose, until one surrenders to that thought. If we are not doing well, we need to keep our heads in the game and try to make the most of the experience, later using that experience as feedback, to improve future engagements. The fourth is the correct habits and rituals. One of the extraordinary qualities of the brain is neuroplasticity; the ability of brain synapses to modify in response to extrinsic/intrinsic perceptions, the performance experience and also varied thought patterns. Repetition of a particular task strengthens these nerve connections, formulating the ideal structure for that task. Conversely, if we do not reflect on past engagements, or have a pessimistic mind-set towards the experience, the connection between these neurons will begin to deteriorate, until eventually it disappears completely.


Do you want to help your children to discover their talents and prepare them for future life? As part of the ‘Unlock Children’s/ Student’s potential’, with access to the latest psychological knowledge, parents can learn how to effectively lead children in the right direction, so that they can not only be successful, but also live happy and content lives.Therecentbestseller:‘UnlockChildren’s Potential’ (Albatros, 2018) book, written by Jan Mühlfeit and Kateřina Novotná, is also constructed around successful courses for children, students, and parents. Due to the high interest in these workshops, an online course for parents, teachers or trainers, who are actively working with children (www.odemykanidetskehopotencialu.cz) is now available.

By Jan Mühlfeit, Global Strategist, Coach and Mentor, former Microsoft Chairman for Europe