As I wrote in a previous blog entry, First, Break All the Rules is the best management book I’ve read. One of most useful concepts that Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman offer is that of distinguishing talent (p. 71) from skill and knowledge (p. 83). Talent is “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” Talents are “the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.” They are “the four-lane highways in your mind.”
Speaking of four-lane highways, the authors mention that most truck drivers have an accident once every 125,000 miles. But some have one only every one or two or three million miles. Why? They have a talent for anticipating. They are constantly thinking, If that car has a flat, how should I react? What can I do now to put myself in the safest position before that would happen? That kind of pattern of thought or behavior is talent. And it cannot be taught.
Skills are the how-tos of a role and can be taught.
Knowledge is the “what you are aware of” and can be taught.
Talent cannot be taught.
The authors describe three kinds of talents (appendix C, pp. 251-52):
1. Striving talents explain what motivates a person.
2. Thinking talents explain how a person makes decisions.
3. Relating talents explain whom one trusts, ignores, confronts or builds relationships with.
A simple exercise for any manager is to take a category of employees (e.g., accountants, sales people, editors, warehouse personnel), identify the best employees in each category, and then ask what talents they have and what motivations they have. With that list of talents and motivations in hand, you now know what to look for when hiring new people for those jobs.
Conventional Wisdom: Managers should hire new employees based on experience.
Great Manager Wisdom: Managers should hire new employees based on the talents needed for the job and not simply on experience, intelligence or determination.