We focus on a very specific kind of talent in this book—namely, talent with a creative spark … In referring to the creative spark, we mean people who generate new ideas, start new institutions, develop new methods for executing on known products, lead intellectual or charitable movements, or inspire others by their very presence, leadership, and charisma, regardless of the context. Those are all people who have the gift of improving the world by reimagining the future as a different and better place.Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World – Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross
As someone who has sat on both sides of the interview table (or Zoom window, as the case might be) in recent months I found Talent by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross (CG) to be an optimistic and engaging exploration on the topic of talent search and evaluation. It’s a book that prompts generative questions more than delivering easily digestible answers, but that’s no surprise when the topic is how to identify and evaluate hidden sources of transformative talent (it is by definition a project that resists formulaic approaches).
When faced with the question of how to best find high end talent, one might expect that an economist (Cowen) and a Silicon Valley investor (Gross) would focus on quantitative metrics, measurability, and structure – a focus on the “science” side of the “art and science” of talent search. Instead, CG suggest that those on the lookout for sparks of hidden talent need to push past the easily measurable (an IQ score, rating the response to a set of standard questions) towards the more complicated and messy realities of the human person. Finding transformative talent is about finding particular people rather than evaluating particular test scores. It’s more art than science, “… a creative skill, akin to music or art appreciation.”
A more structured approach may establish a floor for lower level roles, a minimum bar to be cleared, but when looking for (unexpected, undiscovered, hidden) candidates who can raise the ceiling of an organization/endeavor, low-level bar clearing exercises don’t provide the information a talent evaluator is seeking (and on the downside may actually trip up candidates with unconventional backgrounds). The whole point of looking for an exceptional candidate is to identify the exceptions to standard “perfectly fine” or even “very good” candidates. In turn, a key skill for talent evaluators is evaluating not just a particular set of candidates but also the context they are selecting them for. What is the game you want this person to play (and win)? Is perfectly fine actually going to be perfectly fine for that data analyst role you’re trying to fill?Continue reading “Talent (or, how ambitious is this blog post?)”