Talent is the Holden Caulfield of economics. It is every economist’s worst nightmare. Talent doesn’t follow the “rules” of marketplace manners. It doesn’t behave like a good little product or service. In fact, even if every working American suddenly discovered their talent and made it the centerpiece – even if the supply of talent increased by an order of magnitude – there would still be a desperate need for talent in the workplace.
This seeming contradiction in capitalism is caused by the nature of talent. It is true that, as many Americans have learned over the past twenty-five years, the way a specific talent is used can become obsolete. The introduction of new technology, the shifting interests of consumers, the decline of mismanaged corporations and the rise of cheaper or more productive competitors can transform a talent’s application that was once in great demand into one that is no longer needed or valued. That’s what happened to those whose expertise was devoted to textile manufacturing, data processing and mid-level management. Factors beyond their control gut-punched their careers and all but pulled the American Dream from their grasp.
Human beings, however, are not buggy whips or black and white television sets (unless they choose to be). As obvious as it may be, that distinction is worth noting. Unlike what happens with inanimate resources, a change in marketplace demand does not render a person’s talent worthless. The factors that are beyond their control do not leave them out of control in their career. Technological, marketplace and other developments do not occur overnight, but rather over a period of years and sometimes even over several decades. And, that delay in impact gives a career activist the window of opportunity they need to make the necessary adjustments in their career.
Those adjustments are possible because talent is not skill. Talent is an inherent capability – an endowed capacity for excellence – which can be taught to do a certain kind of work. No talent is compatible with all work, but every talent can be expressed in more than one career field. It can be trained to perform as one skill today and another skill tomorrow. It is flexible, adaptable and highly susceptible to learning.
Talent, then, is the universal donor in the workplace. It can be used effectively almost anywhere. The ever-changing landscape of the modern workplace ensures that employers’ demand for specific skills is always in flux. Their need for talent, however, is constant and enormous.
That reality provides career activists with two alternative courses of action when the market no longer values their particular application of talent:
• In some cases, the situation may warrant a change in degree rather than in kind. In other words, while the demand for the current application of their talent is down, it is not completely eliminated. Therefore, a career activist can reinforce their expertise and upgrade their performance to a level that will sustain their employment despite the lower demand. In effect, they act to remain an all star, but in a smaller league which still offers them opportunity and security.
• A career activist can also apply their talent to another field of work. They can transfer their inherent capacity for excellence to a different occupation or industry. For example, someone whose talent is persuasion – the ability to convince others to adopt a point of view or to act in a certain way – can acquire the skills to work in sales, the law, journalism, or even politics. In effect, they can act to become a player in a new league where they have more opportunity and security.
There is, however, common thread in both of those very different approaches. It is action. It is taking the initiative to take charge of one’s career. And, it is self-reliance. It is taking responsibility for one’s own success. Those two interwoven attributes have deep roots in the DNA of America, and they are the energy sources of career activism.
Thanks for reading,
Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at Amazon.com, in many bookstores and on Weddles.com.