Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Do You Recognize and Maximize Talent?

When we think of Albert Einstein, we think of genius. If he were alive today, would he be perceived as a genius? Or would he be seen as a nuisance?

During the space race of the 1950s & 60s, tremendous talent was developed in math, science and computers in the US. Perhaps much of that talent was influenced by Einstein’s achievements of the ‘30s & ‘40s. Furthermore, after we won the space race, that same talent was effectively utilized in companies like AT&T, IBM and Ford. Those same brilliantly talented people were allowed to experiment with a wide range of technology like laser, wireless and automobile design.

However, in today’s environment, the mantra is
‘what have you done for me this quarter’. That mentality results in less commitment to exploratory research and development. Businesses want to see a return on investment in a short time period.

People like Einstein, on the other hand, tested abstract theories that had no immediate relevance or return. Yet, it was that kind of thinking that allowed him to discover possibilities that others had not considered. If Einstein were not given the space to tinker, atomic energy would not have been extensively explored. Therefore, the possibility to venture into space may have never become a reality.

In the past 30 years, we may have had another Einstein amongst us. Except, we may have squandered the talent. With quarterly demands, a person with brilliant talent may appear to be a disappointment or even a distraction. As a result, they may seem useless and would be pushed aside for someone who could satisfy immediate needs.

With that in mind, what is the possibility that you currently have the next Einstein in your organization? As a rule, what do you do with the person who continuously asks questions that are too difficult to answer?

Brilliant talent needs space to grow. I have personally witnessed some of the most intelligent people struggle in their careers because they appeared to be too difficult to manage. They ask tough questions that force others to think or feel confused.

Instead of blaming the person with unusual talent for your confused thoughts, engage them. Ask them to clearly articulate the benefits of their ideas. From there, give them an opportunity to transform their abstract ideas into practical use. If they are strictly an idea person, you may have to team them up with someone who is highly skilled at executing ideas.

I am advocating maximization of brilliant talent. Too often, talented people are discarded. Companies believe they are too expensive to hire. Those who see them that way are generally too lazy to make the effort to leverage the Einsteins of the world.

In that lazy person’s defense, it may be easy to state that the US is constantly innovating already. In which case, some may argue that talent is being fully utilized. Yet, there are far to many frustrated people with untapped skills and competencies.

Instead dismissing unusually brilliant people, it is time to leverage their talent. Leveraging their ideas will allow the US to reignite the power that was once so pervasive during the space race.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 

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