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What is Talent?

Submitted by on Monday, 1 August 201114 Comments

What is Talent?

What is Talent?

What is Talent? – This is a question we are asked from time to time and it’s an important one – because rarely has a term been as misunderstood as that of ‘Talent’!

‘Talent’ is the key to understanding how to motivate and engage, form teams effectively, and enable consistently high performance from colleagues – so answering the question ‘what is talent?’ is pretty vital to organisational success! While we’ve seen before how we can identify our talents, this post will go more in-depth into the science of talent itself.

What is Talent? – Of Cells and Synapses

To do so, we must start with the ‘brass tacks’ of what Talent really is – and here is the first subtle but major difference. A person’s ‘Talent’ is in effect a collection of talents (or abilities) that are partly formed in us from birth and complete their formation by the time we reach our mid-teens.

Most education systems put their emphasis on us acquiring brain cells – or knowledge – over these formative years.

And most hiring decisions put their emphasis on the type of knowledge we have acquired, and from which university or institution.

Yet as massive workplace studies have shown (undertaken, among others, by the Corporate Leadership Council and Gallup), this knowledge makes little difference to our motivation and engagement at work. It’s this engagement that directly drives corporate performance.

Instead, we should look to our synapses as the clue for this – yet how many people are aware of this subtle but vital difference?

How talents work

Synapses are not the cells – or stores of knowledge – in the brain, but the ‘information superhighways’ that connect them.

Cells will come and go. But these superhighways have been inherited from your parents and built over the first fifteen years or so of your life and thus change very little. They are fundamental to the structure of your brain and also what make you unique – your ‘talents’.

When these synapses connect, an electrical charge takes place which creates energy. The more connections that are made, the greater this charge. If a person is working to their talents then a brain scan will show these synapses lighting up like a Christmas tree… and in this state a person is naturally engaged and motivated.

It’s for this reason that understanding a person’s talents at work is really critical.

What is talent, really?

The connections these information superhighways make determine what we are best at.

For example, if you have a ‘great sense of direction’, then that is a talent. If you have a good ear for different tones, that also is a talent.

What is Talent?Those among us who lack these talents, will know that however much we work on our ‘sense of direction’, or ‘tonal listening’ will know that doing so is futile – they won’t improve. Instead we have to rely on ‘tools’ to help – for someone with a poor sense of direction, this would be a map.

There are 18 different talents as identified by the Johnson O’Connor Institute and tested in the Highlands Ability Battery, and when these traits combine in certain combinations, that’s what determines if a person is talented in one area or another.

It’s important to remember Peter Drucker’s saying at this point, that everyone has ‘peaks and valleys’ – if you have a ‘valley’ or a weakness, in one area, you are likely to have a ‘peak’ or a Talent, in another. Drucker incidentally debunked the myth some companies still harbour today that anyone can be a ‘well-rounded’ person, talented in every area. Studies undertaken by the Johnson O’Connor Institute with FMRi machines have shown it just ain’t so.

Putting your talents to work

Whether we ‘love’ or ‘hate’ our jobs often comes down to whether our synapses are ‘lighting up like a Christmas tree’ in the way described above.

To get this to happen, we need to discover where are Talent really lies – and if we can work in that area, then we will love our job more, be more productive and fulfilled, and more engaged at work.

For example, if you are naturally ‘strategic’ but spend most of your time dealing with lots and lots of little problems, then it’s likely you will be disengaged at work.

Or, if you are great at fixing ‘things’ but struggle with ‘people problems’, then that also can lead to you disliking your job.

Again, notice this has little to do with the ‘knowledge’ you may have in your role, but how that knowledge is deployed.

This is why it is critical to know what your Talent is, and what your strongest role can be.

Discovering this and working to it leads to higher engagement at work. If you can do the same with your team members, this can lead to even greater performance in your team.

It’s little wonder, for this reason, that Peter Drucker devoted a third of his landmark book The Effective Executive to the importance of knowing your talents and working to your strengths. Yet, as he lamented, few people know what their strengths are, with disastrous consequences for engagement at work.

There is a solution…

Yet now there is a solution.

The Highlands Ability Battery helps you identify your talents scientifically, discover your strongest roles at work, and play to your strengths.

It is in our opinion the single most important assessment any professional can take.

Moreover, this assessment can be done in the convenience of your own home or place of work.

If you would like to find out more about the Highlands Ability Battery and how it can drive engagement in your job, career, and work teams, you can read more about it here.

Or, ask us for a free introduction to discovering your Talent by emailing us using the form here.

It’s time to let your Talent shine!


Talent Technologies :: Taking your Talent to a Higher Level



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  • Jim Shoe says:

    Hi. It’s a clever idea how you link the information super highways in the brain with talent. I think you are very wrong that the brain doesn’t change very much after the first 15 years of your life. It is NOT futile trying to improve in things you’ve always been bad at. This is a very debilitating message. I’m a walking counter example. I’ve managed to improve in many areas: work, hobbies like music, everyday skills like driving, generic IQ tests through the last few years. I’m also a lot older than 15. I’m not saying that a person who starts young doesn’t have a huge head start, but that is no reason to say an older people has lost their chance to ever be good or even the best at what they want. I’ve heard people say that your dreams have to be realistic. A dream is inherently unrealistic! If a person has a specific physical or mental illness or impairment, that’s fair enough, take it into account, but don’t ever let anything somebody says limit you. Even if it is a talent specialist.

  • admin says:

    Hi Jim – and thanks for your comment.

    I think the key here is to identify the difference between what can be learned and changed, and that which cannot.

    For example, research suggests that finger dexterity is a talent – it can’t be changed. Hence, if you believe you can be a great guitarist but lack finger dexterity, you may find it challenging to achieve your dream.

    Likewise, if you lack spatial relations visualisation (2D mental processing) as a talent, you may find it extremely difficult to cut it, say, as a hands-on engineer.

    So I think you’re correct about dreams, and learning new things, but the proviso is that we will find it very difficult to learn in areas of little or no natural ability – this is simply what the MRI research indicates.

    What do you think?

  • Sergey O. says:

    All of my life experience says that it’s profoundly not true.

    Read e.g. “Fixing my gaze” by Susan Barry.

    Regarding finger dexterity, if your hands are generally healthy, I’d be surprised if you can’t improve finger dexterity to a level acceptable for a professional guitarist after a few years of hard practice fueled by desperation.

    Unless you have an obstacle such as damaged nerves, if you are an average healthy adult with all systems intact, and you have opportunity, a good teacher and an insane amount of motivation, you can develop those areas, and after enough years it will feel as if you have talent in them, and the MRI still change.

    People just don’t know that change is possible, don’t have the tools, or are not prepared to sacrifice everything.

    In other weird

  • Sergey O. says:

    In other words, practice can create natural ability. You may just need 5 more years than another person, but after that you will be just as good, with the original disadvantage completely disappearing.

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