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Home » Talent, Teams

Startups: the Talent Code

Submitted by on Tuesday, 31 July 2012No Comment

One overlooked factor among Startup teams is that of the hidden effect of the talent code…

“Why does our Chief Engineer always fixate on performance issues? Why does our CEO not pay more attention to the people management side of things? Why is the CFO oblivious to the potential of different marketing approaches?”

When the above become patterns of behaviour, reasons for these traits often find their answer in ‘the talent code’.

What do we mean by that?

Your talent code – decoded

We’ve explained before what talent is and how poorly understood it is by people in business today. We’ve seen Steve Jobs stress how important it is to appreciate ‘talent’ and the passion that it drives. And we’ve heard Jim Collins in his massive study into business success identify ‘talent’ as the single most important factor in a founding team.

So why is ‘the talent code’ in Startups so poorly appreciated? Is it because people don’t know what it is? Can’t define it? or is it because people are hardwired to put ‘What’ before ‘Who’, rather than ‘Who’ before ‘What’?

What is this mysterious creature called Talent?

Put simply, without you knowing it your talent code decides:

1. Your management style. Are you a generalist or a specialist? Long time frame or short time frame? You may not be able to change your fundamental style but you need to know what it is!

2. Your problem-solving style. This is a huge breaker that I’ve witnessed among Startup teams. The CTO? – He may be logical, step-by-step, layer by layer. But if the CEO is holistic and ‘global’ then tensions can quickly arise! You need to know!

3. Your drivers. Some people may think that money is the only driver. And everything begins and ends there. But humans are not like that as we have seen here. We have a number of ‘engagers’ and by far the one with the strongest pull is that of your talents. You need to know!

Humans: the ultimate self-deceit

Remember the scene in Sixth Sense where the boy says that he sees dead people (ghosts) but they don’t know they’re dead, while Bruce Willis listens intently not knowing that he, himself is a ghost?

Something similar is happening to humans in life, every day. We assume that because everyone else looks like us, they must be like us. Wrong! Humans are not only built differently, we’re also coded differently! We are usually brought up to believe that we’re self-selecting, self-programmed and essentially ‘able’ to be great at anything we want. Wrong again!

talent codeScientific research into our talents (the synaptic connectors in our brain) have shown that by our early adulthood we have a number of biases that determine exactly where we can be great (as opposed to mediocre).

Think of it this way: programmers code programs to make applications do things in a certain way. If the application doesn’t ‘do’ what you want it to do, the difference is (usually!) in the code. Humans are no different! However unlike computer programs, our code cannot be rewritten. By the age of 18 our talents are set and they are hard at work trying to drive us in the direction they want to go.

Yet, so often, it’s differences in our talent code that can derail Startup teams.

Startup teams: what you can do to make the talent code work for you!

Obviously the best way to make the talent code work for you is to find out your own code, for example using the world’s ‘gold standard’ assessment – and of course we’d say that!

Here are some things you can do right away, however:

1. Get a ‘talent philosophy’. When Steve Jobs talked about being a talent scout, the starting point is with a philosophy of close observation. How is the programmer I’m working with problem-solving that boolean logic thread? How is the design team interpreting the guidelines and what are they trying to do – stand back and watch. And ask questions.

The fundamental talent philosophy is this: We are wired differently, we are not the same, and I want to make the most of that. ‘Strong teams are about differences, not similarities’ (Covey). Now share that philosophy in order to promote awareness.

2. Red card, green card. Monday. Get two sets of cards – green and red. Every time you perform a task and hate it – write it down on the red card. Every time you perform a task and love it – write it down on the green card.

Friday. Collect up your cards. Is there a pattern to the tasks that you loved and those which you hated? Therein lie your strengths.

3. Get clear. Skills and knowledge are what you put in. Talent is what you get out. Some Zen here: never let what you put it smother what you get out.

Strengths are your talents x (skills + knowledge). If your skills and knowledge are not reinforcing / working with your talents, you won’t get that multiplier effect.

And remember – your talents are what motivates you to do certain work (effortlessly). To be a great talent manager, it’s essential to pick up on this reality and celebrate it wherever you can – even when mistakes arise!


If you found this post interesting then please feel free to subscribe here. We will be following up shortly with the typical ‘talent codes’ for Startup Roles. More details of how you can discover your talents can be found here. 


See also:

Building strong teams

What is talent?

How Highlands helps you discover your talents… and play to your strengths


Talent Technologies :: Taking your Talent to a Higher Level


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