I spent a very pleasant Sunday with friends, one of whom runs a school for the performing arts in London. Whilst these days he doesn’t teach as much as he used to (or, to some extent as much as he would like), his eyes would come alight when talking about how his role was to allow people to realise and extend their talents.
Now I’ve railed against the current vogue of organisations using Talent as a synonym for Person in the past. Talking with Ikky at the weekend made me realise that the practice is even more insidious. Talk of recruiting “talent” or managing “talent” puts it as a fixed entity, frames human beings as merely fungible units of defined “talent”. Makes people interchangeable cogs in the machine of the organisation.
Except we are not. Organisations are organisms, not machines. They are full of autonomous, active participants, not merely cogs. In great part this is a worldview that is supported by Richard Thaler’s recent Nobel Prize victory – if it was all by the book, machine-like homo economicus then Thaler and Co’s entire series of explanations for why economics isn’t a science wouldn’t exist. People are not machines. We are not merely defined units of talent.
Talent is what exists within each and every one of us. The potential to do whatever it is that we might want to do, might like to do, might enjoy doing. The type of thinking that leads to “managing talent” rather than unleashing our potential is the sort of thinking that leads to uninspired, flat, dull, disengaged workplaces where nobody wants to be and everyone needs to be “compensated” to be there. And then folk wonder why these places aren’t great places to work.
Recruit humans. Help them find and unleash their talents. Not the other way around.