Organizing Talent

The opposite of ‘routine’ is ‘original’

Labour is routine. Talent is original. Even advanced technical Labour can be in essence routine. As Labour, once you learn how to do something, you are able to repeat it. Labour is the capitalist dream for human effort, because it can be quantified, controlled, and replaced. Labour is viewing humans as resources. What is becoming blindingly obvious is that Labour is increasingly getting automated which is disrupting how most people have worked for the past century, by doing a job.

On the other hand, original work has high task variety and requires continuous learning, as well as significant tacit knowledge that cannot easily be codified. Talent that does original work is difficult to replace. This means that Talent is much more difficult to push around.

The industrial capitalist system was designed to use Labour as a commodity. While it is more difficult to abuse Talent, the owners of financial capital still control the wealth game. Creating a new power balance is a major challenge if we want to be more equitable in wealth distribution and maintain a dynamic middle class. .

Can social media help Talent thrive? Maybe if you are the best in your field. If you are not one of the recognized leaders in your area, is it really possible to make a living online? It is more likely that skilled content creators will just become part of the long tail, valuable only to online platforms and their advertising revenues. Content creators are too often mere fodder for Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to earn huge market valuations.

If you want to be Talent instead of Labour, first ensure that you have a greater amount of task variety in your work. This holds for salaried workers and the self-employed. Ensure that your valued skills, those for which you are paid, cannot be easily turned into commodities. Be good at learning new skills because Talent is a constantly moving target for automation. It is a  shifting value, as computers get smarter and the world gets networked. It’s only a matter of time before today’s Talent becomes tomorrow’s Labour. This is why most professions need to think in terms of perpetual Beta, or continuous learning and creating.

compassOne way for Talent to survive in the long run is by working together in communities of practice, using social networks to find work and get work done. Those emerging as Talent from the ashes of Labour can no longer rely on the job as society’s main wealth-sharing mechanism. Jobs were for industrialized Labour. So what do we have for Talent? Nothing yet. Talent has to create its own models, using suitable frameworks and models for the network era. There is no template. Talent needs to create its own road map for this journey. To start, Talent needs a good compass; one that does not point in the direction of a job, or routine work.

6 Responses to “Organizing Talent”

  1. Madelyn Blair

    I’m curious how you see your thoughts here in relation to Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class performers from Everybody Else.

    • Harold

      I have not read Colvin’s book, but it sounds similar to ‘Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success’ by Matthew Syed. Both focus on purposeful practice and Syed talks about the importance of top quality coaching.

      Interesting comment by Robert Rowntree (2008) on the Colvin book, on Amazon:

      “This book is substantially a suspicious rehash of a major peer reviewed article. Colvin and Gladwell Outliers: The Story of Success are chasing the same topic, incredibly within the same few months and referencing the same research. Albeit with different titles and stories. Colvin does a good job giving credit to that author. The problems begin when Colvin starts to take parts of the research and explode the number of pages dedicated to one point -deliberate practice. And while that point, deliberate practice is important, it is one of several ingredients in the making of an expert. In the paper “Making of an expert” by K. Anders Ericsson and others, Harvard Business Review, July 2007 they detail three well accepted conditions:

      1. Deliberate Practice – the author cites verbatim with strong emphasis
      2. World class coaching – Important but not emphasized well
      3. Enthusiastic family support – Very important and not emphasized well”

  2. Nick Shackleton-Jones

    I like your use of the term ‘Talent’ but am struck by how different it is from corporate usage – from the way the ‘war for talent’ is intended, for example. Large organisations generally use the word to mean ‘people with management potential’. This is almost the opposite of what you are describing: I.e. people who will act to bolster and personify hierarchy. So it seems there is the ‘talent’ or the hierarchy and the ‘talent’ of the wirearchy and they are very different things.

  3. Hugh Aitken

    It strikes me that there is a strong association in your writing with many of the concepts that define a co-operative society. Many of your recent articles on work seem to embrace the foundations of this very well established practice which has faded with todays focus on the individual at the expense of the community. Thank you for the reminder to further investigate how the co-operative society can be reinvigorated through the integration of social media.


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