Interesting books read over the Summer : Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (Syed, Matthew)

As Christians I think it is important that we read widely and not just books written from a Christian perspective. I find there is much that is stimulating and interesting written for the general market. Bounce is another such book.

Matthew Syed was the top UK table tennis player of his generation. He noted that the top table tennis players in his era all lived in the same area. “One street alone (Silverdale Road, on which the school was situated) contained an astonishing number of the nation’s top players.” He concluded that this was because of the facilities available in this area, the influence of a particular coach and the impact of having lots of other people to play table tennis against.

He went on to conclude that the nurture of talent was therefore far more important for success than innate gifting. His research into many different fields confirmed the conclusions he drew from his own experience of table tennis. Across the board he found that the key to success wasn’t natural gifting but the willingness to practise.

“By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practised an average of ten thousand hours – more than two thousand hours more than the good violinists and more than six thousand hours more than the violinists hoping to become music teachers………Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

“from art to science and from board games to tennis, it has been found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task.”

The research highlighted the significance of purposeful practise not just practise.

“Purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it; it is about grappling with tasks beyond current limitations and falling short.”

“Excellence is about stepping outside the comfort zone, training with a spirit of endeavour, and accepting the inevitability of trials and tribulations. Progress is built, in effect, upon the foundations of necessary failure. That is the essential paradox of expert performance.”

I found these insights thought provoking and challenging. Are we willing to nurture the talent we are given?  I want to give my best for God but am I willing to put in the hard work required? It is so easy to settle for second best or to blame my genes, saying I just don’t have the God given talent.

I also found some of Syed’s own conclusions helpful.

“That we should praise effort, not talent; that we should emphasize how abilities can be transformed through application; that we should teach others and ourselves to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats; that we should interpret failure not as an indictment but as an opportunity.”

In practise I realise that I do tend to praise talent rather than effort; that I can shy away from challenges; I don’t like failure………………

It is so good to be challenged! My summer reading has certainly done that.

Interesting books read over the Summer : The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work (Liswood, Laura A.)

One of the best things about summer holidays is that there is more time to read than at other times of the year. Having an extended holiday this year I was able to read even more than usual. One of the most interesting and relevant was “The Loudest Duck.”

At Hope Church we are seeking to build a diverse community of different ages and social and ethnic backgrounds. This book’s premise is that the challenge isn’t just gathering people from different backgrounds, getting “the animals on the ark” but about ensuring everyone is treated the same. “There is always someone who is taller, went to the right school, played the popular sport, and has a subtle advantage.”

Whilst written from a business perspective it very relevant to us as a church and to any context seeking to truly receive and accommodate people from many different backgrounds.

“If you want to create more diversity, you can’t just play the numbers game. You have to shape the attitudes and tendencies of people in the organization, from the top down and the bottom up. You have to foster an environment free of subtle advantages and subtle disadvantages so that all employees work on a fair and level playing field.”

I found the book gave some great insights about how we can create such a community.

I was challenged to be willing to fully listen to the observations of others and to encourage everyone to do the same. Too often the perspective of others is not taken into account because this is not what the dominant group have experienced. “Leaders in diverse organizations must realize that their dominance might not reflect the situation for others in the organization.”

”The benefit of diversity will emerge only when we become aware and conscious of how we feel about the other who is sharing our space in the ark.”

There is greater motivation for minority groups to listen and understand other groups than for the dominant group.

“The basic idea is that if you are the elephant in the room, what do you need to know about the mouse? Not much, for you are mighty, tall, and powerful, and have little use for the tiny jungle creatures. If you are the mouse in the room, what do you need to know about the elephant? Everything. You could be crushed or obliterated if you don’t understand the elephant’s habits, movements, and preferences.”

If I as a leader want to create a context where everyone flourishes, especially minority groups I need to seek to understand things from their perspective.

Another insight I gleaned from the book was the importance of understanding the things “Grandma” taught me and others when we were children; to see how this impacts us now  and to be willing to challenge them if necasary.

Examples are

“in the United States, Grandma customarily taught men that “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” implying that the person who complains the loudest often receives the most attention.

However, in Japan it’s said that, “The nail that sticks out gets hit on the head.” The squeaky wheel is a far cry from the lesson taught by the Chinese Grandma, who says, “The loudest duck gets shot.” Being outspoken in these cultures is discouraged; it is 180 degrees opposite the squeaky wheel. Asian nationalities contend that the one who speaks up is punished, not rewarded.

There is that familiar lesson in humility from Grandma—often told specifically to girls—that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” “

It goes on to say that “Research shows that the first or second person who speaks in a meeting actually sets the agenda; the people who speak during the first third of a meeting receive more credibility.”

Therefore those people who bring with them “Grandmas” contention to keep quiet can often be at a disadvantage, are less likely to be noticed and bring less influence to the group as a whole.

The suggestion is made that they need to change their attitude and be willing to speak up. However it is not just those who have been taught by Grandma to be quiet that need to change, an environment needs to be created where those who struggle to contribute are valued and drawn out.

The last piece of advice I picked up was that a major breakthrough only comes “When you get enough mice together in an organization or leadership capacity, they can begin to change the dynamics of leadership.”

I hope this practical wisdom can be applied to help us as a church to gather people from lots of different backgrounds but also to release and empower everyone.

Cultural Misunderstandings

Hope Church draws people from lots of different nations; this has always been a priority and a joy. However the majority of us are white British. Despite our best efforts it can be difficult for people from other nations to feel at home and part of the family. One of the reasons for this is that us Brits are not good at saying what we mean.

I recently came across this table which helps us understand a little about how hard it can be for people from other nations to understand us. Although the author of the table is unconfirmed, it is thought it may have originally been drawn up by a Dutch company as an attempt to help employees working in the UK.  Let us continue to work hard at our communication and offer and receive forgiveness as required!




I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided



Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.