I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein
Gary Inrig tells an interesting story about Bertoldo de Giovanni. Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. He was the pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and he was the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time. Michelangelo was only 14 years old when he came to Bertoldo, but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Bertoldo was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than to grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art.
One day he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting this unforgettable message, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!”
When it comes to the recruitment of the best and brightest in most organizations the safe bet is to always go with the most talented. For example, you don’t see the top law firms competing for the bottom ten graduating students from law school; instead they go after those graduating at the top of their class.
It goes without saying that talent is important. You want and need talented people on your team. But is talent alone enough? I’d like to highlight three things that talent can’t do for you and in doing so hopefully help you to see the broader picture of what matters most.
Talent can’t be a substitute for your character
Whenever you place a higher premium on talent than on character you have made a mistake. A talented individual on your team can be a valuable asset. But if they are strong on talent and weak on character in the end you will both lose. This is a trap many leaders find themselves in. What do you do when the “star” of your office (top sales producer, etc.) is also the office jerk, a bully, cuts corners, or exhibits otherwise questionable behavior?
At the end of the day, you can always find talented people to help you. You can also find people of character. It’s not an either-or proposition. You can have both but you have to esteem one over the other. Which do you think is more important?
Talent can’t be a replacement for your motivation
Talent and potential is one thing while possessing the motivation and desire to achieve is another. A person with lesser talent but with a higher motivation factor can achieve more than an unmotivated person with more talent. Talent is not what gets you up and out the door in the morning. Talent does not give you an advantage; motivation does.
A classic example is Steven Spielberg. Spielberg dropped out of high school and applied to and was rejected by three different film schools because of his “C” average grade. His report card didn’t measure his motivation and passion. But because his motivation joined forces with his talents we’ve all enjoyed some really great movies. The key here is not to become complacent or coast just because you are talented. No one will remember you because you had talents, but they will remember what you did with it.
Talent can’t be a predictor of your success
What talents do you possess? What is your driving passion? What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail? These are pointed but necessary questions you need to answer if you want to be successful. You see, it’s not your talents that define you or guarantee your success – it’s your choices.
In your possession are talents that you have been blessed with. And every day your choices take you one step closer to perfecting those talents and achieving those dreams or your choices hold you back.
Here are some key choices you will have to make: Your attitude; it will make you or break you. Your friends; the true ones will always believe in you and stick with you. Your faith; it will give you strength for your journey and peace in your storms. Your fears; you will be defined by how you overcame them or how they overcame you. Your talents; will you use them or will you lose them. Talent does not guarantee success it is simply part of the formula.
Embracing your talents is a necessary first step going forward. The formula looks like this: T (Talent) + C (Character) + M (Motivation) + C (Choices) = S (Success). What are you doing with your talents?
© 2014 Doug Dickerson