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14Aug/102

Shhhh… wanna buy some talent?

The reqruiterspeack made its way into boardrooms of the corporations. The talk about “talent acquisition” surreptitiously crept up over the last decade, and became de-facto standard for bundling together workers of all stripes. Whatever happened to skills and knowledge that used to be the market staple over last couple thousands years? What had  happened to the talent, genius, giants?

 Obviously, a devaluation had taken place. Talent used to be unique and mysterious, a combination of skills, knowledge and something not quite identifiable – but you know it when you see it… If you listen to the HR departments today they are all in business of “talent recruitment”, “talent retention”, “talent acquisition”.

How do you quantify talent?  Does this sound right to you: “I have thirty talents working for me”?

One fallacy which this perpetuates is the idea that “talents” are interchangeable. They are not. Talent is unique, a singularity unto itself, and it has to be treated like this.

Tell the Apple board that you’d like to replace Steve Jobs with another “talent” at 50% discount, or Mozart with a diligent graduate of a local conservatory, or Einstein with a hard-working fellow student from Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule…

Another one is that talent can be taught. “Learn to think like Newton, and we’ll teach you how to think like Leibnitz for half-price!”

Maybe, this is the real reason that the innovation sputters in the USA?

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  1. You are probably on to something here. No doubt, those thirty talents were purchased with thirty pieces of silver.

    However, I think you stretch the point with regard to uniqueness. These days you can buy t-shirts that say “I’m unique. Just like everybody else.” I believe it’s an uncredited reference to a Ziggy cartoon, that lovable pop culture everyman. That’s the kind of talent that recruiting agencies colloquially known as “body shops” sell and the kind of talent that HR departments in large, complex organizations typically seem to sling their nets for. True uniqueness paired with Mozart or Einstein-like brilliance doesn’t generally fare well in such constructs.

    However, it does exist. Perhaps it was easier in the 90’s for that kind of “talent” to flourish in its own small corporation consulting to the larger ones in the highly focused (and usually short term) engagements that best feed its own engine and provide the best, targeted benefit to such organizations.

    Talent CAN be taught–to be sufficiently disciplined to engaged in a world that is not a consistent mirror of itself. If “Talent” is multi-talented, it can still hang out its shingle or partner up with a few like-minded “Talents” to form a self-supporting consortium that can effectively consult with the Big Boys.

    I agree that the attitude you highlight above does relate to the reason innovation sputters in the USA. Many classes of, particularly, technical staff have seen their roles commidified and taken off shore. Well, do you know any blacksmiths? How about weavers? These are roles that have also been either structured out of the economy or automated or commidified.

    “Talent” has its own responsibility for maximizing it’s potential. All the individuals sited above as examples of “Talent” made their own way in the world–usually against great odds.

    And one more note: true “Talent” is not vocational in the modern sense of earning an income in a narrow sphere. True “Talent” is vocational in the broader sense and often results in creating a new, previously uncharted space for others to earn their living in.

    If anyone sees himself as having “Talent,” it bears upon him to realize it or quite possibly he ends up joining the burgeoning ranks of mythopoetic Wounded Kings we have walking the earth today.

  2. Yes, a talent can be refined, organized, focused, developed etc. A raw talent might not reach his/her full potential without it (see The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)), but it has to be there to begin with.


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