Danish footballer Rasmus Ankersen had been looking forward to the new season. He was lining up for top division club FC Midtjylland, and at just 19 had been identified by coaches as having a bright future in the game.
But after just 15 minutes of the first match of the season, he injured his anterior cruciate ligament and his career as a footballer was over before it had really begun.
Now 30, Ankersen doesn’t dwell on what might have been. Instead he has spent much of the last 11 years moving from coaching to researching and writing books to unravel the enigma of talent and potential: what turns someone from just good to great?
“Talent cannot be evaluated in a vacuum,” he says. “You need to talk about what is important and then you can talk about what talent is.”
For those in the field of sports the margins between being a gold medal winner are tiny. Ankersen cites the movement away from the gut-instinct of scouts — “they only remember when they’re right” — to measurable metrics, best shown in the 2011 Brad Pitt film “Moneyball,” as an industry-wide phenomenon aimed to find the very best.
However, just pure number-crunching can be flawed if it is not done with clear goals and an element of objectivity, he suggests.
“(Outside of sports) the recruitment process has potential for becoming a lot more professional,” he says. “I think businesses are way too static, they look at resumes and certificates too much.
“If you speak to a business you’ll have a hard time finding someone to explain why they are using the metrics they are using; they basically put an ad in a newspaper because that’s what everyone else does. There’s a lot of ass-covering.”
To find the best, you go to the place where it the most difficult to demonstrate the skills you are looking for, believes Ankersen.
As a consultant for a fashion company’s recruitment department he prescribed some bitter medicine: no resumes could be looked at and no one could come from within the fashion industry.
The results, he says, were positive, with new employees coming from a range of backgrounds.
Others are looking to social media to help find the diamonds in the rough.
Former Fox TV and Facebook employee Jordan Katz founded Create.it last year. What began as a platform for Red Bull to help recruit future surf and skateboard champions via peer-evaluated competitions is now branching out into other fields.
“We’re looking at how technology can help improve efficiencies,” says Katz. “We’re moving into the enterprise space to help hire employees, like identify on-air talent for TV networks or a barista at a cafe; they’re all applicable.”
Linked to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, the Red Bull campaigns invite skaters and surfers around the world to post videos of their skills and for others to rate them. A panel of coaches also chime in with their expert opinion.
“There’s a filter layer,” says Katz. “So votes from non-friends are weighted more than friends or those within the candidates’ social network.
“It also gets fans involved and lets the recruiters see the personalities and who are the most marketable.”
The U.S. ski team used the platform last summer to try and help find members for its Olympic aerial skiing team beyond its normal demographic. It encouraged gymnasts, trampolinists and tumblers to send in videos and be rewarded with a place in a try out camp.
While it seems an ideal platform for finding the next surf champion or super fan to become a company spokesperson, Katz maintains that is not just an elaborate popularity contest or brand extending exercise.
“You’ll still have to interview a potential CEO, but this provides a platform to filter, a pre-qualifier before some of the more traditional methods,” he says.
“We’re creating a wider net that reduces the time to evaluate talent and gives people a chance to earn an opportunity.”
Ultimately seizing that opportunity comes down to the candidate, be it a potential Olympian or gas pump attendant whose stellar service skills could be better used elsewhere.
Hard work is a necessity in being a top sportsperson, and Ankersen believes that fundamental holds true for success in other fields.
“How many people get honest feedback or stretch themselves, set goals on a daily basis?” asks Ankersen.
“Not many of us. The whole practice mindset is what sports do very well, but not in business.”