Roll this question in your minds – Do people make organizations smart?
Now play the devil’s advocate and ask a deliberately twisted qualifying question – Or is this merely an intellectual justification for why some people are treated with disproportionate attention – in hierarchy, compensation and progress?
Sharpen the devil’s horns a little more to ask this piercing question – Is the system only as strong as its stars?
Give the devil its due – maybe its disruptive introspection could help us place talent and its management in a more truthful perspective.
Here are some spices of confusing contradictions.
Educational institutions evaluate individual brilliance. Working with aids or other people comes close to being branded ‘cheating’. At work and in the real world though, success depends on how well we manage ourselves, others and use aids to navigate through situations.
“Sift, Strike, Shove” – this happens in organizations. Six rounds of interviews to hire among the top 10%; a year or two down the line, flush them down the drainpipe, ostensibly for falling to the bottom 10%. Did not the slide happen during the residency term at the organization? Ironically, many 360 degree feedback show poor correlation between how peers and bosses rate individuals.
This leads us to wonder – is ‘talent’ being abstractly celebrated?
Analyses on the debacle of ‘talent-mantra-churners’ like Enron seem to conclude that they failed not in spite of their talent mind-set but because of it. The question arises – Can we find a smarter way to avoid the trap of just overrating smart people? Can we have smarter systems to make them succeed for themselves and for the organizations they belong to?
Simulation studies conducted across students and working professionals provide some consistent and interesting revelations. A striking difference in behaviors is noticed between groups praised for their effort against groups praised for their intelligence or ‘talent’. Excluding exceptions, those praised for solely for their innate talent tend to define themselves by that description. They show a reluctance to look at improvement or remedial measures. In tough situations, when their self-image is threatened they seem to have difficulty with the consequences. Those praised for their efforts, on the other hand, grasp at opportunities to make effective inroads to develop their strengths.
Research also seems to be consistently proving that conscious training is the key. It is the process of practice followed by reliable feedback. If you want to reach any pinnacle, practice it lots, practice it right and practice it smart.
This lesson is for both individuals and organizations to note.
As individuals, let us believe success is a skill; that there is not a talent we cannot learn or master. Like someone said, stare hard at who you want to become and steal the lessons they demonstrate in their success. It is OK to make a mistake or be stupid just once. Use simplicity and humbleness to reach, struggle and repeat to succeed. Be astute to prioritize the hard skills to succeed. Pick tough teachers and trainers. And do not forget the golden rule – work ethic trumps talent.
For organizations, it is not just to stick labels on people and assign theoretical expectations. Provide a demanding, safe, committed and innovative learning environment for them to succeed. Steer clear of a culture that believes only in stars and not in systems; that suggests that the abilities of those not ranked the highest cannot be developed.
Talent still is a sexy word and evokes awe. It is up to us to keep it positive and from being disbelievingly overrated. And it is certainly up to us to keep the struggle optimistic – towards excellence and not merely towards existence.