top of page

Managing Talent - A conference at Clare College, Cambridge



In the brilliant autumn sunshine, Clare College looked at its very best throughout the two days of the 2005 conference, Managing Talent. And insider the elegant Latimer Room, brilliance was in abundance too, especially during THE BIG DEBATE, This House believes ‘talent’ cannot be ‘managed ’.

Proposing the motion was journalist, broadcaster and former MP Matthew Parris; opposing the motion, former top civil servant and current Chairman of the National Theatre, Sir Hayden Phillips, GCB.


“Talent is by definition original,” said Matthew, “and the way talent works is counter to the organisation. Organisations think incrementally, and have structures. And there is always something pedestrian about the way they work. Talent is different. It thinks radically, eschews structure, and sprints. No wonder that each is poisonous to the other.”


Sir Hayden, in response, observed that “Managing talent – and managing talent well – is by no means impossible. Rather, it is a well-crafted skill. To manage talent, one has to be a talented manager. In those – very many – cases in which talent has failed to be managed, the failure is not attributable to the unwillingness of the talent to be managed, but to a failure of the manager to manage in a talented way. What, then, are the characteristics of the talented manager of talent?”


Combining eloquence with insight, erudition with wit, Matthew and Sir Hayden held the delegates spellbound, and stimulated some fine speeches from the floor.


Our delegates this year represented not only a wide diversity of organisations – from Sage to Manchester United, United Utilities to Unilever, Stannah Stairlifts to the National Health Service, to name just a few – but also a very broad age range. The presence of senior managers as well as people at the start of their careers was quite deliberate. So many conferences are a sequence of powerpoint-driven speeches by grey-beards telling everyone “This is how I got it right”. But not this conference. This conference was specifically designed to create the opportunity for bright, energetic and highly talented young people to tell the grey-beards “this what I need to flourish”. And the grey-beards listened.


Much of this dialogue took place during the expert-led discussion groups on the second day, which addressed a total of eight topics, including:


  • Does a talented team necessarily have to be formed from talented people?

  • How can we build consensus within a community of talented individuals – especially as regards situations in which they do not report to a common boss?

  • What do young, talented people need, or seek, from their bosses to allow their talents to flourish?


Please click on the cover image for a copy of the conference report with low-resolution pictures; if you would like any further information, or a copy of the conference report with high-resolution pictures, please contact Dennis.


“I can’t think of any other event where I have been in contact with such an eminent group. Dinner worked wonderfully well: I very much enjoyed speaking with a number of people and being asked for my opinion and being listened to, as everyone's views were valued. Great.”


“A well-organised and facilitated conference that I found enjoyable and useful. There was a good mix of academic debate aligned with discussion of real work issues.”


“The syndicate groups on the second day were extremely beneficial – particularly the discussion on what young talent needs.”


“What did I enjoy most? The debate, dinner and drinks in Clare, discussing the issues with everyone. Great bunch of people.”


“It was wonderful to meet such a diverse and talented group of people.“


"THE BIG DEBATE was stunning! Such charismatic and eloquent speakers!”

Please reload

June Sarpong - and others - enjoying the Clare Creativity Conference 2005
Deep in discussion at the Clare Creativity Conference 2005
The floor
Sir Hayden
Clare Creativity Conference 2005 report

Listen to THE BIG DEBATE...

bottom of page