Talent vs Skill : There’s a Clear Winner

You can beat your targets every time when you understand this critical difference.

Talent vs Skill
Talent is our most human possession.


Talents run deep. Skills are shallow.

We can only excel when our talents are engaged, yet organizations have rarely looked to talents to measure human ability. That’s because until recently, talent was invisible and there were no tools to measure it. The result was that, for hundreds of years, ability was measured by skills, qualifications and experience. But these are inadequate tools and their use has resulted in disengagement, stress and unfulfillment for untold numbers of people. Now there are tools that are proven to measure talent with extreme accuracy. We can use them to build careers, teams and organizations that won’t fail. It’s too late to right the wrongs of the past. But we can make the future better for millions.

Key Points:

  • Talent is from within. Skills are from without.

  • You are born with your talent. Skills arrive later.

  • Your talent is your source code. Skills are plug-ins.

  • Talent liberates you. You can be trapped by your skills.

  • Talent drives us. Skills do not.

  • Talent is the enabling force millennials and Gen Z want to be judged on.

  • Natural talent is far more important than skills and qualifications in determining success.

  • You cannot achieve excellence without doing what you’re naturally good at.

  • If your job doesn’t align with your talent, you’re doing someone else’s job.

If you’re already convinced, Contact Us. Otherwise, read on…


We believe that the discovery of the power of natural, born-with human talent and its clear supremacy over traditional means of assessing ability is easily the most important development of the century so far. Its significance cannot be overstated. CEOs, enterprise leaders and hiring managers, tired of sweeping up the wreckage of failed hopes and broken careers throughout their organizations are gleefully walking to the edge of the abyss – and throwing the traditional résumé into it. When they cross the talent bridge to the other side of the chasm they discover a world where employees find fulfilment at work, not waiting for retirement, and where everyone’s job is what they’re good at and what they want to do. It’s a world of unfettered talent where people have discovered ‘smart collaboration’ and where teamworking is natural, intuitive and meaningful – and blissfully and satisfyingly productive.


If there was a 0-to-10 scale to compare the relative reliability of skills, qualifications, experience and talent in building great organizations, then talent would rank 10.0 and the other three would be scrambling to rate a 4.0 or 5.0.

Talent is the disruptive force that millennials and Gen Z have been waiting for. If organizations were built primarily with an eye to the power of talent and only secondarily to skills, qualifications and experience then those organizations would be places of fulfilment, purpose and high team morale which people would join in order to find colleagues and friends. The reduction in stress would mean better health for all and translate to a happier home life resulting in fewer divorces and one-parent families.

For corporations the result would be productivity beyond the dreams of the most zealous COO combined with engagement and retention figures to curl the toes of any HR leader. CEOs would bask in the perma top and bottom line growth that accompanies rising customer satisfaction, rising employee satisfaction and the rising share price. Team efficiency levels of sub 40% which are currently the norm worldwide would be ancient memories just like the age of steam.

The list of ‘best companies to work for’ would grow long. Even government departments, surely the laggards on any measure of productivity and human fulfilment, would become places of achievement and innovation.

This is our certainty after years of experience of applying the power of talent at the service of our clients. It has been gained whilst working for top organizations on three continents in sales teams, executive teams, recruitment functions, engineering departments and most other disciplines. When talent is observed, individuals, teams and organizations perform out of their skins.

In this piece we set out to back up our claim.


What is natural talent?

Talent is the most exciting development since man discovered fire. Talent is like a set of living streams that come from three different areas of our brain. Neuroscience has revealed that talent governs a) how we think, b) what we are motivated to do, c) how we naturally behave. These three rivers of influence form a large part of what makes us both human and individual. Human because they’re with us every day, informing us, pushing us, leading us. Individual because no two of us are exactly the same. This alone is why we absolutely must pay more attention to talent in the workplace. We are not robots with stored copies of the same learned skills. It’s our talent that differentiates us.

Talent is the mother lode of every human being’s prosperity and purpose. It flows like a rich vein through our brains in the same way that gold and oil run through the earth beneath our feet. The analogy is deliberate. Just like gold and other precious metals, talent has lain hidden, under the surface of our minds. To continue the analogy, in the last half century sciences like geology and geophysics have been able to uncover the locations of precious metals and minerals by looking beneath the earth’s skin. Vast industries have come into effect as a result. In the same way, only recently have the tools been found to reveal and map the formations of talent inside us. Initially these tools were very basic. But in the last few years new tools have emerged that are several evolutionary steps above the former. These new tools have a precision and an ‘actionable’ quality about them that makes them ideal for the workplace. They can be used to build careers, teams and organizations that are almost guaranteed to be successful.

Our talent is our brain’s permanent resource. It cannot be changed, added to, subtracted from or otherwise altered except in <1% of the population, and even then only in a very minor way. For the vast majority of us, our talent – what we’re naturally good at – defines us permanently. The mission of every one of us is to discover our talent and put it to use. It benefits no-one if we die leaving the fuse of our talent unlit.

By contrast skills, qualifications and experience, the current means of assessing ability, are entirely superficial. We achieve these in later life. Sure, they help us earn a living. But they come from outside of us. Talent is from the inside. Skills can be acquired but then set aside, unused, without causing us stress. A surgeon who has acquired the skill of transplanting a heart will not suffer stress if she can longer use her skill. However she might suffer stress if her motivation to ‘make a difference’ in the world – a talent – is not requited.

Some of us are made such that we like to acquire knowledge, often far in excess of our needs. Some others of us are made to acquire only the knowledge necessary for the moment and to make accurate decisions based on the barest facts. Both are healthy expressions of talent. There are many, many others. Yet our education system recognizes only the former, the knowledge-gatherers. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if all our talents, even those that don’t help us pass exams, could be recognised and put to use in our careers?

Talent is what we’re naturally good at. We cannot excel at anything unless it is something we enjoy doing. But talent is not inert and lifeless. Instead talent drives us and nags us to use it. When we do, we are elated. We know we have played to our strengths and it feels good. We can sleep well. When we do not use it we are depressed and moody. Over a long period this becomes stress and can affect our health, even how long we live.


How do we know that Skills, Qualifications and Experience have failed as measures of human ability?

We can answer this question in a single statistic: 70% of employees in the US either hate their jobs (actively disengaged) or resent their jobs (partly disengaged). This figure has been reported by Deloitte, Gallup and many other researchers.

Skills, Qualifications and Experience (SQE) are the old guard of the recruitment and organization building process. They have been around for hundreds of years and their position has rarely been threatened. They are therefore as closely linked with the outcomes of their use as it is possible to be.

Let’s look more closely at the statistic. Of that 70% figure, about 30% are actively disengaged and 40% are partly disengaged.

The 30% figure alone is entirely shocking. Fully 3 in 10 people in your company hate coming to work. They try to put on a brave face, for fear of being let go. But their lives are effectively ruined. Their natural talents are locked up inside them, like prisoners, unable to be allowed to work. It is a denial of their humanity. They are destined to finish their careers never having shown the world what they can do. They will be poor both financially and in spirit. And because of the ripple effect, the lives of all those around them are negatively affected. Future generations will look back at this time in the same way we do at the age of slavery. How was this horror allowed to go on for so long? How did this generation ever consider itself sophisticated?

However the story isn’t over. Another 40% of employees, that’s another 4 in 10 people in your company, wish they could move to a better job. It may be they have talents that are not being used. Or it may be they are required to use talents they haven’t got. Either way, they are suffering a permanent degree of stress throughout the working week because there is a strong mis-alignment of their job and their natural strengths. Will you, whether you are a CEO, CHRO or hiring manager put an end to this malaise in your organization and start to look for and build with talent?


What happens to people who don’t use their talent?

Careers that do not use talents will end in failure. Let us consider a couple of real-life examples.

First there is the case of the networker. Let’s call her Ava. Ava is someone who sees that success is delivered through people. She is an extrovert and possesses an abundance of empathy. Ava is also motivated to acquire knowledge. This leads her to go to college where she learns science and eventually takes a job in a laboratory. She is genuinely interested in doing research. But her primary talents are engaged by working with people. Her need to work with and through people burns within her. In the laboratory she gets very little people contact. Eventually she becomes disenchanted with her job and loses motivation. She thought she liked science but now has come to hate her job. She leaves her job and looks for another. But she doesn’t know her own talent. She knows she enjoys the company of people. But she doesn’t understand that her enjoyment is actually a need and that it must be satisfied during her working day. No-one told her this in school. She takes a job in another laboratory. She hopes it will be different this time. But in reality she is on her way to burning out. Not only is her future in jeopardy but she has failed the hopes of at least two employers. They will have to bear the high costs of replacing her.

Then there is the project director who is also a natural leader. Let’s call him Bob. In his early 20s Bob took a job in sales. His drive and dominance gave him early success and he decided to build his career as a salesman. But his primary talent as a project director was to do, to make and to build. These talents were set aside and ignored. The talents required for a sales career are quite different and Bob does not possess these. By the time he reached his 40s his drive to sell and close deals had evaporated. It was never really there. He changed job several times, always disappointing his new sales manager. As his career waned and his earnings fell, his home life suffered. If he had known where his talents really lay, he could have built a completely different, long-term, successful career as an engineer or a programmer or a project manager.

By such simple errors are entire careers – and sometimes lives – destroyed. Who now believes that skills and qualifications should be followed with the slavish devotion we have always accorded them?


What are the costs of not using talent?

Consultancies such as Deloitte, Gallup and others regularly find that teams and organizations are barely 40% efficient. This means that for every $100 employers pay in salary they are getting only $40 of effort back. Why are they not outraged at this awful return on their investment? Is it because it’s been going on for so long that employers have got used to haemorrhaging money? Will they still be satisfied with this willful squandering in 100 years’ time just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’?

But the costs do not stop there. The No.1 reason millennials change job, according to research, is they feel their organization doesn’t really know them and is not using their natural abilities.

The cost of replacing lost corporate knowledge, when someone changes job are estimated at over 10% of their salary. Then there’s the cost of finding a replacement (recruitment fees), the cost of training them and the slow build up to full performance. Then there’s the cost of the disruption to the team during this process and the knock-on effects on productivity. All told costs can mount to 33%-50% of the leaver’s annual salary.

By contrast, organizations that strive to be ‘the best companies to work for’ and make an effort to know and use employee talent have far better levels of engagement and retention. They retain corporate knowledge longer. Their share price is higher, and they have better top and bottom-line growth. They have a queue of people wanting to join them and so have little cost of recruitment. Not only this but their organization is healthier and happier.

Which group should your company be in by this time next year?


So should I completely ignore Skills, Qualifications and Experience?

No. Skills, qualifications and experience have a necessary role to play. For instance there is no point hiring a finance manager who hasn’t acquired the skills for the job.

But CEOs need to put talent first in the order of things. When recruiting that finance manager, for instance, are you looking for someone who will also be able to purchase, install and implement a new accounting system? If so, you have a big problem because you are looking for superman. Or superwoman. And they don’t exist. In order to carry out a task of that magnitude you need a huge array of talents. The new finance manager may have some of these. But he/she won’t have all of them. Do you know what talents they do have (not just the finance skills, remember)? And do you know what the missing talents are and who, in your organization, possesses them and can be assigned to support the finance manager? If you don’t, you are unwittingly putting that new finance manager on the road to failure.

Organizations, teams and individuals are at the cusp of a new industrial revolution. The previous revolutions were all about change on the technology, process or strategy dimensions. This time, change is coming on a different dimension and it’s a dimension that’s familiar to all of us. It’s the people dimension. We all thought we knew people. But the talent revolution is going to show us people in all their astonishing, intricate perfection. It won’t show us weaknesses or vulnerabilities. It will only show strengths.


How can OND help?

We can help your organization become a talent magnet, effortlessly attracting and retaining top talent. The sophisticated new tools mentioned above that can measure talent with extreme accuracy and help to build careers, teams and organizations are to be found in OND’s Method Teaming. Method Teaming is a compound technology made up of a science, a language and a methodology. Although this sounds complicated, it can be taught in less than a day. To work it into your business takes a little longer. You can purchase Method Teaming either as a series of programs combined with consultancy or as a technology that you can take in-house and we teach you to use.

For any questions, please get in touch. We’re here to help you light the fuse of your talent.



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