Giving “talent” the Stink Eye

I tend to be a little bit backwards.

If people are scratchy about any part of our brand it is generally around the whole “anarchy” thing.  Anarchy seems to be threatening or at least confusing to some folks, especially HR folks.  Being backwards…anarchy makes complete sense to me, but I struggle with the idea of talent.  One of the reasons that I have not brought much to this blog lately is because I have been trying to get some clarity around the idea of talent.  Talent is, I believe, one of those words.  It is one of those words that everyone talks about like it is a specific tangible thing like a pound of sugar…but it is not.  Similar to my conversations about inclusion and engagement, I am now asking for definitions when people start flapping their gums about talent.

The responses that I get are very telling.

Most people that I talk to cannot define talent in a way that makes any sense.  Anytime you have to use several paragraphs to define something I am going to put on the stink eye.  Does talent mean ability?  If it does, we can just use the word ability.  Does it mean potential? If it does we can just use the word potential.  Is it a set of skills, or engagement or the right “fit?”  If so, we already have those words as well.

Now, let me be clear…I am completely comfortable with things that cannot really be defined.  I have no problem with that at all, I think most of the really important things in life cannot be truly defined or truly measured…they are far too big for our sloppy language and one dimensional numbers.  Can you define or measure love or truth?  I am fine with big, abstract, intangible things.  What I do have a problem with is greedy ass HR consultants and authors who treat something that is intangible and immeasurable as if it is tangible and measurable so that they can sell more software or surveys or books that are not going to actually do anything except drive a bunch of activity.  I hate that a lot. Especially since most of those HR consultants and authors know better.

This is a lot like the engagement issue.  I just recently listened to a lady defend the massive investment her organization had made in employee engagement with a firm having a name that rhymes with scallop.  She talked about all of the wonderful things that they were doing, but she could not define engagement to save her ass.  They may very well be doing good stuff that is of benefit to the employees and / or the organization…but if you tell me that you are doing engagement work, but cannot tell me what engagement is…you get the stink eye.  Homey don’t play that.

I do not care how much you spend on talent management…if you do not have clarity on what talent actually is, what its antecedents and outcomes are so that your activities, measurements, etc. are aligned with and built on that… you are not managing anything.  You are just doing some stuff.

I think that idea of talent needs to be blown up.  I think that most of the popular ideas about talent are problematic and counter-productive.

I say that talent needs to be blown up and you and I may just be the people to do it.  I think that talent is probably a really big deal…like hope and love and giving a shit about stuff.  There might not be a nice neat little definition for it, but I bet we can bring some new light to this idea and map out something that is actually relevant to this new world of work.

You game?



  1. If you decide to carry this conversation forward – please make sure your definition of talent includes some component of passion. Skills without passion are just party tricks. Just sayin’

  2. Great post! I love the site and logo by the way…I haven’t stopped by for a while and I was quite impressed when I landed here this morning.

    My definition of talent (when it’s used to describe someone who is talented) is a combination of words and phrases.

    If I worked with someone who is “talented” and I was asked to describe them I would probably use these 3 phrases:
    – They bring something to the table no one else does.
    – They have a presence.
    – They are able to think, talk or express themselves in a way unlike others at this *insert group, organization, company, institution, etc.*

    Great post…looking forward to reading Jason’s take on it now!

    Keep at it guys…looking GREAT!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.