The Talent Problem

I’m doing a lot of talent evaluation these days.

Well, trying to anyway.

Between overseeing our quarterly review process and conducting interviews for new openings, my life has been consumed with evaluation lately.

But talent? That’s been a little harder to pin down.

Lest you worry, no this is not some screed about how we are lacking great people at King of Pops.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We have amazing people. We have the BEST people. (I mean, come on).

It’s just that, I don’t believe talent is all that important, so I’ve largely stopped looking for it.

This, despite the fact that in my role as the (entire) HR Department at King of Pops, “talent evaluation” is most definitely in my job description (I went back and looked, it’s there).

Talent, by definition, is something that comes naturally. It is effortless. Innate.

And yes, while interviewing for a marketing coordinator it would be great if I somehow found someone that was born with an innate ability to master Snapchat, but there will probably be something cooler than Snapchat by Fall and how could she be born with a talent for something that doesn’t exist?

But I digress.

If you are evaluating college football players for the NFL draft or a cellist for the Vienna Philharmonic, then sure. Talent matters.

But for most things-brain surgery, accounting, selling popsicles-attitude trumps talent. (I would wager attitude trumps talent in football and the symphony quite often too).

Virtually every firing I have ever done was over an attitude issue. Not a lack of talent.

Attitude is much harder to assess than talent (it’s why hiring is so damn hard) and it is nearly impossible to teach.

Given enough time and the right teacher, almost anyone could become a brain surgeon.

If they really wanted to.

Talent is overrated, but don’t go running off looking for a bunch of no-talent employees with rah-rah attitudes just yet.

Experience counts. So does skill. Things learned and honed over time, not mysterious gifts bestowed by the gods.

When looking for new talent team members, I of course look for skills.

Proof that a candidate has done stuff, made stuff.

But the right attitude can enhance those skills and give me a clue as to whether or not that candidate might be open to learning new ones. So attitude always sways my decision-to the degree I can judge it.

One way we try to discern attitude is with a simple rule of thumb:

We won’t hire anyone that we wouldn’t want to sit next to on a cramped airplane during a cross-country flight.

Because nobody wants to work with a super-talented jerk.

Which is great news for anyone looking for a job.

Because waking up tomorrow and deciding you are going to have a better attitude is a lot easier than waking up and knowing how to play the cello.