Ed Smith, Cricket and Renaissance People

Last week I was in a blustery St Andrew’s for an excellent – bracing, even, in more ways than one! – annual meeting of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference. Led and organised by the new Chair of HMC, Ken Durham (Headmaster of University School, Hampstead), the conference took as its theme ‘Excellence, not Privilege’, and featured a number of stimulating speakers who approached this theme from a number of angles, recognising the excellence of the independent schools’ sector as they did so.

One of the speakers was Ed Smith, erstwhile independent schoolboy, England cricketer, writer and columnist for The Times, who spoke convincingly about his understanding, born of experience, that he came to be a better cricketer by not focusing solely on the game of cricket. Instead, he argued, he improved his cricket because he had a life beyond the sport – connected with cricket, of course, as he was passionate about it, and reflected in his writing especially, but employing a whole range of other skills, thoughts and experiences. Focused technical expertise, he argued, will only take you so far, and has in fact the potential to become twisted and counter-productive – we may have mocked the old-fashioned banker, but a dash of their hunches, coupled with greater time spent pondering over judgements, might just have saved us from the financial mess in which we find ourselves today. Much the same could be applied to politics – do we really trust ‘career’ politicians in the way that we trust people who have had a life before politics, and a more balanced understanding of the world as a result?

A very successful coach I know – and now award-winning author (Lynne Copp – follow her on Twitter at @DancingHandbags) – returned recently from the Women in Networking International Conference with a clear message that we all need to become ‘T-shaped’: broad and deep – a good broad understanding of business and a deep speciality. This was in effect what Ed Smith was saying, and both messages resonated with my instinct that in order to be successful and happy in life, it is not sufficient to be very, very good at only one aspect. We don’t have to be outstanding at everything we do, but we do need to be able to engage with the breadth and variety that life has to offer. This is exactly what Renaissance Man was all about. Updated for today, the concept of Renaissance People is a very attractive one.

Stretch yourself: start becoming a Renaissance Person today.

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