One of the interesting things I’ve observed about talent over the course of my career is that it’s only modestly correlated with success.
Often enough, people with exceptional intellectual ability and strong communication skills fail to gain traction in their organizations. They never really move up in their companies, and with time their once unique skills begin 1. Pro-tip: Genius has an expiration date. No matter how smart or talented you are, your skill set is best tailored to one specific moment in time. Some people peak later than others – but everybody peaks eventually. This is why it’s important to seize the moment. You never know when life will change your previously limitless trajectory. Your health might fail (or that of a loved one you have to care for). The skills and strengths you bring to the table may become less unique or add less value to the market over time. Maybe you’ll have a spouse, kids and family that will become more important to you than your career. There are lots of maybes. Tomorrow is not promised. Maximize each and every moment. Do it now.to atrophy. 1
They fail to reach their potential, and in the process become ordinary.
What is most interesting to me about these incidences of squandered talent is that cultural fit is seldom the reason for the loss. Nor is it a lack of a willingness to succeed on the part of the employee.
Most often, when talented people fail to realize their potential (at least in corporate America), it’s because there are a lack of available opportunities in their immediate world space and (for one reason or another) they can’t venture out far enough to pursue others.
2. Even the gold rush ended. In any market – no matter how bountiful 2 – there are limited opportunities. To this point, developing talent is as much a product of cultivation as it is natural ability.
In order to reach ones potential the right critical experiences are essential.
Ergo, people that have access to resources that allow them to develop the critical experiences necessary to become talented are more successful than those with fewer developmental opportunities.
To a certain extent employers have incentives to cultivate their talent – this is why leadership development programs exist in some form at most companies. At the same time, there are a limited number of great training experiences (and an even smaller number of top jobs) that an employer can disperse across its talent pool.
Anyone not fortunate enough to end up in the population afforded developmental opportunities (and this is as much luck as hard work based) has little choice but to find a way to get exposure to opportunities outside of their immediate surroundings. Sometimes this means leaving the city, state, or even country. In instances where there are no opportunities internally it can even mean leaving one’s company.
Ultimately, the surest way to get opportunities is to go wherever they are.
When you’re ready for the next level, if you’re mobile you can find the opportunity to perform at that level somewhere. It all boils down to if you’re willing (or able) to step out and go for it.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses:
SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org