I’m Sorry, I’m Talented

The biggest problem with talented people is the fact that during most of their lives they listen that they should behave as if they’re equal to others. I can imagine that those sophisticated educational systems like the one in Finland have a solution for this, but the rest of the world is a nightmare for talents.

I grew up in a post-communist – socialist – pre-war Yugoslavia. And I had actually quite a good teacher. She was very interested in working with talented kids and developing their talents. Of course, she didn’t have time or resources because she had to handle at least 15 problematic students with hard-core family situations. It was a dodgy neighborhood. She sent me once to an audition for a school choir. Which was a surprise because I was not known as a kid that can sing.  The music teacher sent me back immediately. A few months later my teacher went to a major ear surgery. But she did her best! And I’m grateful. Because in most situations even if you are talented in something you will get signals that you should tone it down a bit and try not to upset those less talented around you.

Twenty years fast forward and you are in the business. International business. And you would say, of course, all companies want and support talented people. Do they? They only say they want and support talented people. In reality, they will do everything not to upset the mediocre majority by pushing forward the talented minority. Mostly due to the fact that people on top are in most cases nothing but average but extremely hardworking. Rarely are they very talented. So, they are confused and scared of anything different. They want to support what is similar to them and to maintain the system that made it possible for them to succeed.

As always, I like to illustrate this with a couple of real life examples.

Situation 1. A young, extremely talented student arrives for an interview. HR professional recognizes her amazing talent. But, mid-managers who should take her in their teams have doubts. Why do they have doubts? She asked them some tough questions. Obviously, many years have passed since some of their reports asked them some challenging questions. Because most of their reports are average and at the years go by, they became zombies. They don’t question anything. They just do.

Some people ask me for advice what to ask during their job interview. Because there is always this stupid part when the interviewer asks: Do you have some questions for us? My advice would be: ask something simple and not very smart – if you want to get the job. (Do you provide any learning opportunities is always a fantastic stupid question). Ask smart questions only if you are 100% sure that the person across the table is someone very smart and talented.

Situation 2. An extraordinary beginner is hired for a pretty basic position. After literary few weeks it’s obvious that this guy is 10x more talented than anyone else in the team and all his first line superiors. It’s also obvious that the job is ridiculous for him. But he has good working ethics. First talent review: a proposal to move this guy up and give him a better job. No! It’s too early. What would the others say? Some of them have been waiting for ages for a promotion opportunity. But they are not talented! Simple as that.

I still consider fast promotions of young and talented people, people that I have pushed for, to be some of my biggest successes. Most of them have brilliant careers today but what I consider even more important is the promotion of the principle that same rules should not be applied to everyone. And you would be surprised how big enterprises that stand as symbols of capitalism in many occasions react as communist’s systems of mid-20th century.

Of course, the logical conclusion is that talented people should not fit into big systems with mediocre standards. They should found their own ventures. And of course, many extraordinary people did exactly that. But I’m not writing this to reinvent the wheel or change the world. I’m writing it just to bring some ideas to my fellow colleagues from the business scene about different topics. So, can you imagine how much you can improve performance by treating talent in a different way? But not in the HR Talent Acquisition role that I see is very popular. I’m talking about pushing mid-management professionals to see talent in a different way.

Well, you will ask: How can they see talent in a different way when some of them can’t recognize it even if it bites them in the ass? It’s easy. Give them goals and targets to achieve. Sometimes not targets what to do but targets what not to do. In order to make space for those more talented.

If the concept is not clear, let’s discuss it. It’s not 100% clear to me as well. But I think there is something about it.

Cheers to talent!




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