Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Talent is become an almost omnipresent topic in any journal, seminar, blog, forum related with HR or business management. The talent war is nothing new, but the economic crisis and the new business context has given a new twist to the concept as it was understood before. Fighting for talent has become an attempt to avoid laying off valuable employees.
Last week I attended a talk given by great figures of the calibre of Ferran Adrià, Juan Luis Polo, Juan Fernández Aceytuno and Bere Casillas. These forums are a major spotlight for talent, but don’t you think it’s strange that there is valuable talent out there that goes unnoticed or is hidden by the context, environment or capacity? And yet other equally valid ones come to light in a magnificent and almost effortless way?
An example of this is the case of Alice Springs, the pseudonym of the wife of the famous photographer Helmut Newton, whose talent was hidden in the limelight of her husband. Now there is an exhibition of her work at the Maison Européene de la Photographie, Paris. The reasons why her art went unnoticed for so long are not clear.
But what does everything I have said have to do with the title of the post? To explain it, I need to retrace the origins of the meaning of talent.
Talent comes from the Latin talentum and the Greek τάλαντον. In Greece, talanton was a balance and referred to the quantity of precious metal weighed there. Later, talent became the monetary unit of the Hellenic world and the Roman Empire. Although in Roma talent started to take on a new meaning as treasure, it seems that the origin of the evolution in this term towards its current meaning lies with the Parable of the Talents in the Bible. The meaning of talent as intelligence, ability and aptitude derives from the interpretation of this parable.
The Parable of the Talents tells the story of a man who, just before starting a long journey, called his servants and distributed a different quantity of talents among them. One of the servants received five talents, the second two, and the third one.
The first started to trade with his and doubled his talents. The second did the same and earned two more, however the third dug a hole and hid his talent in the ground.
After some time, the man came back and settled the score with his servants. He praised the loyalty and ability of the first two servants. To the third servant, who gave him back the same talent as he received, seeing that he had hidden it in the ground for fear, he scold him for being lazy and a bad servant.
The most common interpretation of this story is the man knew the skills of his servants well and acted in accordance with them, trusting and investing in those who had more ability. However another reading can be taken from it.
The distribution of the talents was not equal. The man left less to the servant that he expected less from and gave more to those who he considered more able. Perhaps the servants acted in accordance with the expectations that the man had of them? Perhaps the servant who received less trust and possibilities doubted his own ability? Shouldn’t the man have helped the servant who hid his money for fear to understand that a buried talent couldn’t generate results instead of punishing him?
Talent in an organization is an uncalculable value. We cannot forget that a company is made up by the people, but… instead of placing so much emphasis (and money) on finding and attracting new professionals, shouldn’t we become talent archaeologists? It is very likely that it is more profitable to invest time and resources in this task.
The educational system and the labor market often knock the rough edges that make us different off from childhood, trying to mold us into standard students and employees. If the environment where we grow up and/or work is not capable of counteracting this attempt to standardize us, there will be many people who end up burying their talent for fear of breaking away from the mold.
Ferran Adrià says that in order to innovate and lead the way, we need to build a psychological barrier, because they will dub us as freaks and if we don’t have this barrier, we will end up believing them. As a result, we will bury our talent for fear as the servant in the story did who was branded as disloyal and a bad servant.
From management, not just from HR, we need to start to design and implement strategies for detecting and retaining internal talent. To do this, we need to accept diversity as something positive. An organization needs the synergy of different skills, competences, intelligences, and abilities in order to innovate, grow and become sustainable.
If the employee has to come to work each day showered and motivated, it is management’s obligation not to demotivate before motivating. We need to motivate the search for buried talent and retain any talent already found in the organization so that it flourishes, before placing all the emphasis on attracting new talent at any price.
“There is something more rare, fine and hard to find than talent. It is the talent to recognize the talented.” Elbert Hubbard
Passionate about HR, Sonia Rodríguez Muriel is HR and media director at Andalusian Agency for Innovation and Development IDEA, and writes a personal blog, which we at Zyncro highly recommend you read.