How good are you at spotting talent?


Talent: how to identify energisers, creatives and winners around the world

by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross (St. Martin’s Press, 2022)

“You can help the world a lot by being a better judge of talent.” So say Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross in their new book, Talent: how to identify energisers, creatives and winners around the world.

Cowen (a well-known economics writer and professor) and Gross (an entrepreneur and investor, and unrelated to Daniel Gross who edits strategy+Business) believe that the most valuable and least understood resource needed for dynamic growth today is Talent—untapped potential of intelligent individuals with a natural capacity for self-improvement. And that this vital mojo is often clouded by what they identify as today’s dominant bureaucratic approach to spotting high potential employees, which relies on safe, unimaginative and ultimately suffocating methods.

That’s why they yearn for a better way to find and hire people with the right mindset to unlock the potential of today’s economy. In their words, they seek to exploit “people who generate new ideas, create new institutions, develop new methods of execution on known products, lead intellectual or charitable movements, or inspire others through their presence, their leadership and charisma, regardless of background.They are all people who have a gift for improving the world by reimagining the future as a different and better place.

These “scarce and transformative talents” are typically underrepresented in today’s economy, they write, leading to a costly misallocation of talent to where it’s needed most. Cowen and Gross focus on finding these misplaced and unrecognized stars. Disillusioned with traditional methods of finding new recruits that rely on a safe and flawed approach that “seeks to minimize errors and losses, and…prioritizes consensus above all else”, they encourage a search for talent more open-minded.

“Identifying underappreciated talent is one of the most powerful ways to give yourself a personal or organizational edge,” they say. (They also reveal a trend of hiring for creative positions and high-growth companies that are often managed by private equity or funded by venture capital.)

Identifying underappreciated talent is one of the most powerful ways to give yourself a personal or organizational advantage.

The New Authors Guide is an insightful, if sometimes boring, book that can improve your ability to spot and hire people who will develop their abilities and help your business thrive. Talent offers thoughtful ways to assess the budding potential of job candidates. Beyond native intelligence (which the authors, in fact, consider a hiring criterion), recruiters should monitor how much an individual practices self-improvement, they say.

Both offer a handful of sound tactics for gauging a potential recruit’s potential talent. For example, they like to ask candidates, “What tabs are open on your browser right now?” as a means of discovering their interests and habits. “The best performers don’t stop practicing for very long,” they claim, noting that a candidate’s activities reveal more relevant data than stories about people’s past jobs and can also track an individual’s trend. to improve. Cowen and Gross identify these habits as “a pathway to ever more complex learning and performance.”

Authors are best when they challenge conventional wisdom and offer simple tips for better hiring. Holding an initial interview in a public place can provide opportunities to see how candidates interact with strangers, while providing other clues about their ability to improvise in new contexts. The same goes for asking a question that exposes beliefs, such as “What is the prevailing or consensus opinion that you completely agree with?” or, “What opinions do you almost irrationally hold?” They are also looking for ways to increase the yield of online interviews, a modern convention filled with many potential false clues about the character. A surprising aspect of the book is the authors’ advice not to rely too much on the candidate’s ability to speak in an interview, which they say is usually overrated – “especially, by smart people”.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the book involves an effort to help people eliminate their prejudices about gender and disability. The authors challenge the negative connotations of people with autism or ADHD and instead explore the merits of neurodiversity in the workplace. Cowen and Gross argue that individuals with such apparent disadvantages often compensate in ways that improve their skills or accomplishments.

And yet these good insights are increasingly difficult to harvest over the course of the book, where general affirmations are made drawing on the exemplary habits of a well-known circle of top students – questioning whether these lessons can apply to mere mortals. like us. We hear of the instructive practices of individuals such as Pablo Picasso, Paul McCartney, Michael Jordan, Taylor Swift, Aretha Franklin and Richard Branson. This evidence by dropping the name undermines what is otherwise useful advice for recruiters and job seekers.

Relying on already available sources also suggests that the authors did little original research for their book. Drawing primarily from the public domain, they sacrifice the ability to help readers spot potentially useful clues from more everyday individuals. I would have appreciated more prescriptive information from them regarding habits and personality traits to look for.

That said, this book will challenge you to think more deeply about how to assess talent and guide your search for the right people for the right gig.

Author Profile:

  • Tom Ehrenfeld is a freelance writer and editor based in Cambridge, Mass. Formerly writer/editor with Inc. magazines and harvard business reviewhe is also the author of The startup garden. He has written extensively on the Lean enterprise; nine books he has edited have won the Shingo Publication Award.

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