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The talent myth?

accapr —  9 November 2012 — Leave a comment

By Jamie Lyon, head of corporate sector, ACCA

Is talent primarily part of your genetic hard wiring, a consequence of inheritance rather than being more due to something where practice makes perfect. Is high performance really about your chromosomes, or does nurture also have a significant role to play in achieving excellence. Are our preconceptions about flawless genius misconceived? Certainly when we look down the list of significant talent in all fields, from J S Bach to Einstein to Tiger Woods, what becomes more interesting is the level of industry, practice and dedication taken to achieve greatness.

Right now, whether talent is primarily about inherited luck, or practice makes perfect is a bit of a contentious issue. In the business world, looking back to the McKinsey work in the late 1990s, perhaps the starting point for the thinking was that some employees were simply more talented than others, and that the organisations’ approach should be to nurture in particular its stars and A-players. But recently there has been a greater challenge to this traditional thinking around talent.

I’ve read with avid interest Matthew Syed’s (the British journalist and author as well as two time Olympian) thoughts on how in fact the key to achieving excellence is more about experience and that developments in neuroscience appear to suggest brain changes as a consequence of continued practice, are the key to unlocking high performance levels. The arguments and evidence I think are compelling.

So does this mean many talent approaches by organisations have been flawed? Certainly what we do know is that traditional linear approaches to talent development aren’t going to work in the future organisation state. Multiple generations in the workforce, portfolio careers, globalisation, diversity issues and so on, will all influence how organisations can best develop their people.

One of the encouraging inferences I take from this new look at talent is that it implies that the organisation ‘talent’ pool is much wider than often considered, and that providing people with appropriate levels of experience and practice is most important to develop the requisite skills.

This is interesting because a recent ACCA survey with 1,200 organisation finance functions reveals concerns over the adequacy of talent development interventions, and in particularly highlighting the deficit of coaching, mentoring and experiential learning. 

We’ll be returning to the talent issue again shortly…