A hot topic these days is talent, but was is talent? This article is not a proclamation or a defined statement, but more an attempt to ask questions and problematize the concept a bit. According to Wiktionary talent is defined as “a marked natural ability or skill” within a certain field of expertise. You can for example be a talent at playing the piano, cooking or driving a car, meaning that how well you perform your work is the basis for the concept of talent.
So, what do we link the concept of talent to? Not surprisingly most of us define it as a crucial part within the competitive environment of today’s working life. If you are a “talented” person, you are a hot candidate on the jobs market. You can pick and choose among employers that believe in your abilities. Maybe you are socially talented and excel in social meetings, saying exactly the right things in the job interview, you may throw in a smooth compliment, completely in place because of your conditionally acquired social skill.
How should we then work to attract talent to our companies? There are several ways, but let’s first ask ourselves the question that psychologist and researcher Kajsa Asplund asked the audience at an HR fair on a rainy November day: “What is talent for us?” Are all employees talented or just a few? Can the talent vary depending on the role and function? These are important questions that we need to consider in the constant search for talent.
Now over to the sociologist’s critical point of view when discussing talent. Some insist on defining talent as something innate, but can we not please, once and for all discard that notion? “But Mozart actually wrote his first piece of music as a three-year-old!” You might answer. Yes, maybe. But could it have been that this “piece of music” was actually a blissful mixture of faux pas, just as written by a three-year-old? With such an early interest and “talent”, is it not completely understandable that he was already gifted as a young man? And we all know that practice makes perfect. Most of us were not particularly cocky as we first stepped in a car attempting to get a driver’s license. But by practicing we got better, and today we may be able to turn left without any problems, park in a tight parking lot or start uphill.
So, what do we want to say with this long exposition of talent, practice, Mozart and getting a driver’s license? That we should be aware that talent is in big part a social concept and should be used with caution. Most talent investments tend to benefit the same type of people, often those who are good at making their results visible. Talent also goes hand in hand with the environment and conditions a person comes from which are diverse and differ between us all. So please bear that in mind when you have your next conversation with your “less talented” employee or colleague.