The Talent Myth

In a recent ChangeThis manifesto, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, states that “The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it’s the other way around.” He cites Enron and WorldCom has examples of the continuing quest for the best individual talent gone awry; while Southwest Airlines and Wal*Mart are companies with inclusive, and more effective business cultures. This search for individuals with star potential, at the expense of the organisation, is what Gladwell calls the “Talent Myth”.

They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.

To me, this is just another example of businesses grabbing on to the latest management gimmick to solve all of their problems. It also shows how human performance technology would have been a better approach for these companies in managing their workforce. HPT looks at the alignment between the culture and business operations, as well as the role of individuals within the system. As James Hite describes HPT, ” …human performance is placed in context along with other subsystems that constitute the presence of the organization.” It’s the relationship between individual performers (especially the “stars”) and all of the other components that has to be examined and understood. Or as Earl Mardle says, “Effective Executives are not a product that we can make, but an emergent property of correctly functioning organisations.”

Gladwell’s stories of narcissistic star candidates, many being paid more than they were worth, are interesting to view from a performance analysis perspective. A cursory look would show that this misalignment of rewards and consequences could cause systemic problems. HPT may not be glamorous, but it works.

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