How Talent Was Rediscovered.
(Episode 3 in the Clare series.)
‘How has talent lain hidden for so long?’ Clare was settled in a chrome chair at one side of the long boardroom table. Her PC sat obediently in front of her. I sipped my water while she readied her keyboard. Her fingers finished their pre-type checks and hovered above the qwerty, waiting for orders.
I regarded her from the other side, my arms folded. ‘You mean, why has it taken so long to properly understand it?’
I had been interviewing Clare on behalf of our clients in the City. But she was now applying to join my corporate team-building firm instead, as our first legal counsel. She was excited by the rediscovery of talent and wanted to be part of it.
‘Yes. I mean, if our brains were made full of all these talents, surely it should have been obvious how to use them. Why has talent only come to light in the 21st century?’
‘Talent has been known about for a long time. In fact our word talent dates back to the Middle Ages. It’s connected with the ancient Greek talenton which meant a weight of gold or silver.’
‘I’m confused.’ Her fingers darted like swifts over the keys. ‘How does a precious metal like gold become a natural ability to do something well?’
‘It was believed that if you had a natural ability for anything, whether it was making horse saddles or interpreting the law -‘ Clare’s eyebrows flicked up in recognition of her profession ‘- that that was your fortune. Your talent earned you money. It was your gold.’
She nodded. ‘Very neat.’
‘And in those days we used words like gifting. It meant that talent was not something you learned or chose to acquire. It was given to you like a gift. You were born with it.’
‘OK, all very interesting. But somehow talent faded into disuse. We don’t use it in job descriptions or résumés, for instance. Why did that happen?’
‘Exactly. You see, although people knew that talent existed and they understood its power, it was hard to pin down. It was kind of nebulous.’
‘So we got impatient and lurched to something easier?’
‘Exactly. We started measuring each other by our learned skills and experience. Skills don’t describe us with any real accuracy. But they are easier to understand.’
Clare was listening intently but she had transferred her gaze to her own résumé which lay in front of her. She was studying the details. On a sideboard to my left, a bust of Mozart looked down on us. Mozart had been taught the skills of music-writing for sure, I knew. But underneath that skill had lain a whole caldera of musical talent. He was lucky. His talent and skills were aligned in his career. Many were not so fortunate.
‘So, if I get this right, our talent is unique to us yet we don’t define ourselves with it. Instead we define ourselves by skills which are not unique to us.’ She turned back to me, incredulity in her gaze. ‘It makes no sense.’
‘So the perfect solution would be to find a way to define ourselves by our talents because only they describe us perfectly.’
I nodded, smiling and opened my mouth to speak.
‘Don’t say exactly again.’
‘And your firm has managed to do that? Define talent, I mean?’
‘Exactly. I mean, that’s right.’ I sipped again from the glass of water and replaced it on the table. Clare was pushing me for a robust defence of my claim and I needed to respond. An idea hit me and I decided to go with it. I hoped Mozart would be proud of me.
‘You’ve heard it said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean?’
‘Well, it’s also true to say that we know more about the bottom of the ocean than we do about the workings of the mind.’
I waited to let that sink in.
‘So, how did it happen? How did you find out?’
‘About the workings of the mind?’
‘The usual thing. Necessity breeds invention. Or in this case, discovery. A bunch of guys working in an office needed a solution that would make their teams work better.’
‘And they discovered talent?’
‘Re-discovered it. Remember the Greeks? Gold and silver? Gifting. All that.’
‘Yes, I remember.’
‘Only this time, they mapped it. They found a way to map every individual’s talent. Not only that, they worked out how to build teams where everyone’s natural talent is brought into play.’
Clare’s fingers were quiet on the keyboard. Even she couldn’t take notes while going this deep.
‘And so, me being a strategist. That’s my talent? My gold?’
‘Yes, since you put it that way.’
‘Then just how do I apply my strategist ‘gifting’ to my future job as legal counsel for your firm?’
‘I hoped you would tell me that. You’re the strategist. The ideas person. Got any ideas?’
I gazed evenly at her, waiting for her response. I knew Mozart was doing the same.
Clare’s face was still. But her eyes were flashing from side to side as her mind accessed the creative and logical sides of her brain in rapid succession. There was more going on in there than a box of fireworks. I knew Clare was trying to play it cool, keep her reason and objectivity. But the lid was coming off the box. The fireworks were bursting out. Finally she looked at me with an air of quiet satisfaction.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have. Lots of them.’
That’s when I decided to hire her.
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