Shorting Talent

I've long held that talent is one of the more important aspects — indeed, assets — of any organization. It might even be the most important quality of a company. With a team of talented people — smartly skilled colleagues — you can accomplish more than what might be supported by available resources otherwise.

Not so, says Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink.

In a new ChangeThis manifesto entitled The Talent Myth, Gladwell asks whether smart people are overrated. "What IQ doesn't pick up is effectiveness at common-sense sorts of things, especially working with people," he writes.

In the October issue, Keith Hammonds suggests that balance is bunk. Might talent be bunk, as well?

Add New Comment


  • Shahjahan

    I fail to understand why talent has come to be equated with that over-rated myth called 'IQ'. Talent to me is your effectiveness with what needs to be done.

    A person who is not good with initiating & maintaining relationships can hardly be called a 'Talented Salesperson' no matter how high his IQ.

    IQ isn't Talent. Talent is your effectiveness with what you do.

  • James Westlake

    Gladwell doesn't actually show that talent itself is the problem in any of his examples. Rather, it's the inappropriate management of talent that causes the problem, and he's convincing in arguing that a completely flexible, hands-off approach to handling top performers doesn't produce results.

    He would need to show that top talent demands this approach before presenting a convincing case that talented, highly-intelligent people themselves are a problem. For every Enron and McKinseys there are examples of organisations which combine top talent and top management of this talent to create an environment where excellence thrives (Amazon and Google spring to mind).

  • Bump Engrind

    Talent does not equal intelligence. George Bush in not intelligent, but he's a talented politician.

  • Johanna Rothman

    Gladwell (and McKinsey) missed the point of talent. Talent is the sum of all the technical and non-technical skills a person has and how that person uses those skills. All of Gladwell's examples are of people mis- or not using their skills to accomplish strategically important work.

    People are able to participate in many different organizational cultures. But the culture that will win from their talents is the one that organizes their work towards a common goal. That's the talent of senior managers.

  • Kelleen

    I would agree that "talent" isn't enough, depending, of course, on how it is defined. If you think of talent as raw or "innate" ability then it's not enough. Not for long anyway. Leaders need to identify the raw materials in themselves, and those who choose to follow them, and nuture and grow it until it becomes as useful asset to the individual as well as a team.

    I would go so far as to say that there is NO ONE single trait, skill, asset, or what-have-you that is going to be necessary and sufficient for success - EVER!

  • Phil Stephens

    Talent? As an easy example - "sports talent."

    The high rated "talented" player adds enough to the team - a "Michael Jordan" drawcard. A drawcard for a huge spectating crowd (i.e. bigger gate) even if he's off the mark for most of his shooting that night.

    So talent can be whatever is needed. Just follow the money and you can see who's "talented."

    Or do I mean trendy/fad-ish?

  • gautam g

    Depends on how you define talent, right? If you define it as High IQ = High Talent, then certainly, IQ (alone) is bunk... I know from colleagues I worked with in the past - good IQ, but bad attitude and no inter-personal skills.

    In the professional context, I would think talent is the ability and initiative to get things done in a way that contributes positively to the team's/organization's goals.

    I guess its just semantics - and by Gladwell's definition, he's right.
    A few potentially talented people I've known are rude, unfocused and even downright lazy; they don't use their "talent" and I wouldn't even call them talented.

    Talented people can be moody and impatient, however they still have the focus, initiative and ability to get things done well. Of course, they can be difficult to manage, but that's the price you pay for talent.

    It's a manager's job to create a conducive environment for talent and to ensure that individual contributions mesh together. I think many organizations invest in talented individuals for operational and front-line departments, but don't invest in dedicated managers to manage them. As a result, they come away disappointed.

    Fast People + Fast Managers/Leaders = Fast Company??