27 November 2006

Talent vs Skill

I've been reading a lot of books about/by people who have profound impact on design as implemented in the market (think Charles Eames as an example).

There are two themes that seem to run through the lives and successes of these individuals.

The first is what I would, in this case, call Applied Talent. Yeah... I'm inventing a term I know.
What I mean is that these people possess a breadth of understanding and experience and ability. Rather than having a deep concentration in one specific domain, they show the results of being deeply (and broadly) curious. They have insight into a wide range of areas of expertise -- but more importantly, they seem to focus on the intersections of these domains. They take lessons learned from one area and apply it (often in a transformative or disruptive manner) to other areas.

The second is their existence within a concentration of Talent. Rather than being isolated, they have identified and gathered with other talented individuals. This creates a sort of critical mass where the total truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts. By increasing input and insight across the broad spectrum, the opportunties for application of knowledge and insight in new ways become increased.

It's interesting - because this also shows a few intriguing implications.
It explains why many of these people not only continued to be influencial and effective late into life but in many cases become seemingly more creative as time went by. With each new experience and each new insight, the potential applications became more profound and more accurate.
It also points out some horrible flaws in the way we tend to pursue hiring and staffing.

We tend to hire for Skill.
Skill is easily quantifiable - and can be qualified as well. Skill can be represented on paper. Skill is understandable - and Skill is not frightening.
But Skill does not tranform. Skill does not disrupt.
Skill enables Talent.

But we don't know how to hire for Talent.
Talent, instead, tends to group and cluster with Talent outside of the normal constraints and structures of business - often in response to rejection from business structures.

There are examples of companies that have successfully cultivated this sort of Talent. In almost all cases, they have done so by isolating the Talent within independent and self-contained units. While this can result in a leveragable (synergistic) impact on the business - it doesn't fully enable Talent to change the company in ways needed to prosper and lead long-term.

As a result... companies end up having to hire services firms to provide this Talent - and the companies focus on the Skills to execute and operate.

This is not a bad model.
But it assumes that the services firms understand that they are desired for this Talent. And, sadly, it seems to me that the vast majority of services firms are trying instead to ape and emulate their clients --- and are hiring Skill instead of Talent.