Talent Archive

People prefer One over ManyFrequently, we warn ourselves against falling for the silver bullet. Problem is that it arrives in many forms, including in the form of star players or employees. They are the silver bullet incarnated.

We like to believe sports teams are bastions of optimal talent and team development, frequently citing them as models of excellence and team play. Nevertheless, humans run them and face all the psychological traps that the rest of us do. For example, Derek Thompson cites this finding in “The Savior Fallacy: Over-Betting on Star Players in Sports and Business” (The Atlantic, April 2014 edition) from the National Basketball Association (NBA):

The teams with the top three picks in any given draft are almost twice as likely to never make the playoffs within four years . . .

Translating to business and quoting Rakesh Khurana (“The Curse of the Superstar CEO”), Thompson continues:

Large companies’ fortunes are “varied, highly nuanced, almost frighteningly complex, and certainly beyond the power of even the most charismatic leader.”

To the NBA, Thompson says this means:

Almost every championship team going back three decades had not one but three above-average starters.

In other words, when it comes to developing a team, it’s not about one Great One but many above average ones. We can extend this though; it’s rarely, if ever, about finding the one key idea, person, solution or product. It’s about doing many little things right. That’s why we can anticipate problems if our companies are looking for the One rather than Many in solutions.

Still, we spend a fortune on silver bullets in all its forms, often because it’s simpler. That’s why KISS is for the stupid, so they can justify falling for every new silver bullet that arrives. Free lunches might not exist, but expensive ones abound.


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This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Three Key Emotional Triggers

Manifestation of NeedsEmotional recognition is the third key emotional trigger, and uniqueness is the nickname I ascribe to it. From the aspects of behavior, thought and emotion, mastery, expertise and talent respectively describe how people display them. Quality is another good overarching descriptor of this trigger. Very often bragging indicates emotional recognition could be a strong emotional trigger.

With uniqueness our behavior orients around mastering animals, people, machines, techniques, processes and other aspects of our physical world. Athletics involve mastering a sport.  Influencing or controlling the behaviors of others, aspects of leadership fall here too. Physical skills such as craftsmanship and art distinguish us especially if they net certifications or awards.

In thoughts, uniqueness takes on the form of expertise. People seek our advice, approval and respect in our field. We are an authority, specialist or technician playing the role of advisor or consultant. We are preferred above others. Many times this is the result of knowledge, education and experience. The focus in on the mental aspect of our being.

Emotionally, uniqueness expresses itself as talent, something more innate than our developed mental aspects. When combined with mastery and expertise, it pushes us to the top of the best. When it comes alone, it’s usually distinctive aspects of personality which are not easily taught such as friendliness, empathy, courage, style, attitude, work ethic, beauty and more.  It’s about feeling special, unique or triumphant.

We can view uniqueness as the outcome of growth, being recognized for the outcome, the achievement. While all have need for this, some will interpret and emphasize their experiences more from this perspective than others by highlighting their skills, expertise and talents. Observations over the long run will form our conclusions.

What recognition, certifications and awards did someone recently share with you?

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You Fit, You're HiredAs algorithms, technology and sensors advance, we are discovering that hiring for fit rather than for talent runs further, deeper and more definable than we ever suspected. In fact, some people such as Don Peck in his article, “They’re Watching You at Work” (The Atlantic, December 2013 edition) are beginning to call current hiring practices as “dysfunctional.”

Among the researchers Peck cites is Lauren Rivera from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in which she states in her abstract from Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms:

Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about productivity alone.

Granted, the idea of hiring for fit isn’t a secret, but its pervasiveness and dominance is. For example, Rivera found a correlation between the leisure pursuits, experiences and styles of hiring managers and candidates. In other words, given the leisure pursuits of both hiring manager and candidates, we can reasonably predict who will get the job. Common experiences also correlate. In other words, ex-athletes are more likely to hire ex-athletes, finance majors more likely to hire finance majors, managers with small company experience more likely to hire candidates with that experience.

In 2009, a colleague showed me the interviewing guide from a Fortune 500 company. It began with, “It’s important that we look for people able to work in our culture.”* After researching this, I began coaching candidates and networking groups that the interview’s objective is to demonstrate fit more than to showcase talent (speaking notes). That means assessing interviewers quickly and positioning themselves within the context of interviewers’ personalities and experiences.

How dominant is cultural fit in your world?


*Note: I have altered the specific wording for confidentiality reasons, but its spirit and location in the document remain true.


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AuthenticityThe truth about Authenticity, a currently popular leadership and career model, is that it must be employed subtly, even covertly.

Lisa Rosh (Yeshiva University) and Lynn Offermann (George Washington University) phrase it as “Be Yourself, but Carefully” (Harvard Business Review, October 2013 edition). It’s deeper still. Whether it’s Pink’s (more) “The Truth About Love” or Machiavelli The Prince, humans always have and always will have a realistic, pragmatic underbelly to their ideals requiring wise approaches. Authenticity is no different.

For instance, how pragmatic is it to assume that people will overlook the authenticity they dislike because they like authenticity itself? Maybe people just won’t like our authentic self. Yet, one devotee of Authenticity responded, “Authenticity helps you to like everyone.”  Is this real, authentic? We naturally associate with people like us and dangerous people exist at work. How do we know unconscious dislikes are not influencing us, perhaps pigeonholing people?

Authenticity often cites differences as communication challenges; that learning to tell our story better will address personality differences. Similarly, political parties and corporations often say they only need to tell their story better, not address intrinsic differences with the electorate or marketplace. Authenticity advocates us learning to fit our story and communications to the situation and person. Does this still mean though that we won’t like those who are like us any more than those who are different from us?

Yet, how is this different from a form of “playing of politics” – that is also used to circumvent or neutralize these differences – without losing the essence of who we are? This self-preservation seems to fit Authenticity’s intent. Could Authenticity then just be a euphemism for playing politics?



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Individuals as HeroesWhen someone says, “If you’re not a leader, then you’re a follower,” he is saying that the only real existence is as part of some group as one or the other. Leadership schools and vendors reinforce this view by presenting leadership as some nirvana possessing no inherent downsides. That is counterintuitive.

Now, when confronted by inherent downsides, benefactors of this perspective are quick to attribute them to “bad leadership” prompted by “bad people.” They cannot accept that, no matter how good the model or person, leadership has inherent dark sides. Yes, positives exist, but unless we grasp its negatives, we don’t understand leadership.

For instance, many individuals have no need for leaders. As with Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and many superheroes and heroines, they aren’t obsessed with accumulating followers. They just want to do their work that they do so well. Also, frequently they:

  • Know what needs to be done without being told
  • Think and emote for themselves
  • Determine their own likes and dislikes, their own beliefs
  • Require no feeding of followers to their egos
  • Possess self-motivation, initiative and inspiration
  • Have talents and skills exceeding most leaders
  • Find intrinsic pleasure in helping others, in seeing their talents serving good
  • Accept leaders temporarily and conditionally often for no other reason than to humor them so they get out of the way
  • Are on guard for leaders suffering from hubris or extending themselves beyond original conditions and timeframes
  • Are masters of their own souls, relinquishing that to no leader
  • Dissuade others from following them by helping and encouraging them to discover their own unique life path

Yes, there are people whose internal personalities are so strong, dynamic and compassionate that leaders are necessary temporary evils and followers are mutually beneficial sojourners.

So, are you a leader, a follower or . . . ?

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This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesPsychopaths prefer relationships in which we will tend to:

In other words, style easily influences humans, so psychopaths will leverage these influences.

Since we tend to view those who break rules as powerful, psychopaths will often overtly break them to establish their power with us. They will also establish rules to control relationships but hypocritically breaking, again establishing their power.

Humans naturally fear uncertainty. Confidence reassures us. Psychopaths know they can use confidence to seduce us. In relationships, they will seek and enforce unquestioning respect for authority and rules to protect their confident persona.

Since we have a natural propensity to overweight talent’s impact on results, psychopaths will smartly position themselves to seize favorable opportunities and build their resumes. They will unabashedly take credit from others’ and embellish their contributions.

Psychopaths aren’t natural relaters so often make up for it by learning charisma and improving their emotional intelligence. Still, they must consciously think through every relational event. The same clumsiness results though as when thinking through every step of swinging a golf club or playing an instrument while doing it. Therefore, they will prefer one-on-one and large group interactions. The latter, even diverse ones, aren’t conducive to deeper discussions taxing to psychopaths, but diverse, intimate groups of three to eight individuals are. That’s why, as a whole, psychopaths will prefer homogenous cultures so they can avoid consciously toggling among many different personalities,

Consequently, hypocrisy, confidence, uniformity, agreeableness, obedience and charisma are key relational preferences psychopaths leverage to advance themselves interpersonally. Knowing the situations, trends, people and relationships that benefit psychopaths will help us recognize their shallowness and insincerity when they attempt to influence us.


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This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Sun Tzu Top 7

1982 Reprint Oxford University Press 1963

1982 Reprint
Oxford University Press 1963

At number two in my top-seven list of Sun Tzu quotes from The Art of War, I have:

And therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy, know yourself; victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.’

Versions of this quote often include only the first sentence. They ignore the quote’s essence: an integrative, holistic perspective. Sun Tzu describes the oversight as one between victory and total victory. Sports’ count victories whether won by a little or much. Life is quite different; the extent of victory matters greatly. In warfare, it can determine whether enemies fight another day.

In business, we often ignore conditions that favor us. It’s human nature to over attribute success to our own efforts, especially when it’s difficult to measure an outcome’s other aspects.  A poor sailing crew can sail faster than an expert one with the wind behind them. Thus, success often blinds us, preventing us from achieving total victory (defined as solving problems).

An integrated perspective has tremendous consequences on many business problems. It means expanding the scope of our analysis more than we think we need to do. It means assuming the different aspects of the problem are integrated, not segregated. A problem in one area often affects other areas.

Yes, we can solve problems with the first sentence of Sun Tzu’s quote. However, to enjoy complete, perhaps long-term solutions, employing the second sentence is vital. It’s not enough to know simply ourselves and other people. Knowing the situation and the rhythm of events is important too, especially how we integrate with them. This can mean the difference between a band-aid solution and an enduring one, helping us avoid nasty surprises.

So, how do you integrate into your world?


Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the 26th paragraph of the tenth chapter, Terrain.


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Dice (Twelve & Two)  [0691] One of the outside factors that tends to cause us to make the fundamental attribution error in assessing talent is randomness . . . or “luck” as it’s commonly known. For example, when an expert predicts an event, especially an unusual one, we tend to credit him with foresight.

In Jerker Denrell’s research though, as reported in the article “’Experts’ Who Beat the Odds Are Probably Just Lucky” (Harvard Business Review, April 2013 edition), it’s probably better that we attribute his success to luck. Denrell goes further by saying that “people who successfully foresee an unusual event tend to be wrong about the future over the long run.”

If a hundred people predict the role of two dice, it’s best to pick seven, the most likely number. However, if we wish to standout, two or twelve are better because few will pick these. Consequently, an expert in the backwaters of his field can suddenly move to the front by taking a chance on a wild prediction. It’s the experts’ version of the Hail Mary pass in football.

Randomness affects us all though, not just experts. This means we need to assess its influence on all jobs. For instance, randomness plays more in sales than it does in accounting; that’s why sales performance is less predictive of talent than accounting performance is.

Simply being aware of our tendency to over attribute will guard us from those who oversell theirs or others’ talents. While “the proof is in the pudding” is fine for making pudding, it doesn’t work in the expanded range of variables influencing business. Our control over the pudding-making process is far greater than our control over business factors. In short, assessing talent is more than just assessing past outcomes. It requires assessing conditions surrounding success.


Related reading: 12 Most Important Unspoken Truths about Experts


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This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

Psychopath & Sociopath The DifferencesThe short answer to this post’s title is that we let them. To understand this, we need to examine this outcome as we would any other event. That means exploring the:

  1. Situation, the conditions under which this could occur
  2. Flow, the timing and trends of events preceding this outcome
  3. People, what personalities and culture make fertile ground for this occurrence
  4. Individuals, how our interactions with psychopaths permit their advancement

Of course, not all CEO’s are psychopaths but as an introduction, we can tentatively describe the situations, trends, people and relationships that benefit psychopaths:



  • Adding more organization, processes and rules
  • Establishing or enforcing fiscal discipline and cost containment
  • Tackling difficult political decisions regarding businesses, staff and other relationships
  • Fast-growing companies in need of organization and processes to scale



Unfortunately, it’s human nature to examine each point segregated from the others. As a composer would with all the instruments in an orchestra, we need to integrate all points into a composition of how psychopaths can become CEO’s. However, let’s not delude ourselves; it’s not about psychopaths. It’s about greater self-awareness for how we feel, think and behave in little events everyday so they can culminate in desirable outcomes . . . rather than undesirable ones.


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This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Sun Tzu Top 7

1982 Reprint Oxford University Press 1963

1982 Reprint
Oxford University Press 1963

At number four in my list of top seven Sun Tzu quotes from The Art of War, I have:

Of the five elements [earth, wood, fire, metal and water], none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some short, and the moon waxes and wanes.

In short, the only constant is change. While generally acceptable and obvious today, the quote’s real significance arises from placing it in the context of an Eastern view of change and the chapter in which it appears, “Weaknesses and Strengths.”

The Eastern view’s cyclical nature implies a pattern, which also implies predictability. Sun Tzu incorporates this by referring to the predictable changes of the seasons, days and moon. By taking this for granted and considering it obvious, we tend to discount change’s predictable aspects.

The significance of appearing in the chapter, “Weaknesses and Strengths,” provides hope and warning. If we find ourselves weak, we can expect change will yield opportunities making our weaknesses strengths. Conversely, we must anticipate challenges making our strengths weaknesses, thus protecting us from hubris. This is difficult to see because we tend to discount other influences on events, exaggerate our own and discourage negativity. Consequently, when we experience success, we tend to believe it’s more attributed to own talents thus triggering more risk taking.

Thus, the real significance of this quote is not the constant nature of change but two other aspects. First, our control over change is less than we would like to think; and second, but on the other hand, change is more predictable than we think it is. In terms of our daily perspective and actions, that means a shift from controlling to adapting, from controlling the waves to riding the waves.


Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the 31st paragraph of the sixth chapter, Weaknesses and Strengths.

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