Sep 3, 2013
Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby: Confusing Talent and Success
But having talent and being acknowledged for same - whether by recognition, compensation or some other metric - is an entirely different matter, one that is of increasing concern to those who must toil for a living whether at a keyboard or a combine.
In a winner-take-all society, the kind in which are repeatedly reminded we inhabit, success is the proverbial offspring of many parents. As Napoleon was wont to say when asked what characteristics he wanted in his generals, "I want them to be lucky."
The reality is that in today's economy success is not entirely divorced from talent, but neither is it completely dependent upon it. The difference matters to contemporary enterprises because talent is required to make them operate efficiently and productively. It is essential for competing effectively in a global market. And it is crucial to the sustainability of the organization.
The problem comes when all of that talent is faced with the dwindling opportunities for success. Only so many people can be promoted. Only so many can get raises. Only so many can avoid being laid off.
It would gratifying to hear that it is always the most talented who prevail. But it would be delusional to think so. There are some who may consider the results discriminatory, or unfair, and they would sometimes be correct. Often, however, it is a numbers game - too many talented people chasing too few chances.
So what happens to all those talented people who are not, by some definition successful, is important to institutions and the society in which they operate. Because recognizing and retaining talent in a world where success may be increasingly difficult to achieve is a significant challenge. Employee commitment is essential to organizational success. Loss of that commitment can be quantified in myriad ways, from differentiating IPOs that deliver stock price increases to their investors from those that do not, to separating larger corporations that demonstrate an ability to grow by entering new markets with innovative products from those that can not seem to get out of their rut and are eventually acquired. There can be talent without success, but there is no success without talent. JL
Meg Wolitzer comments in the Financial Times: