What Is Talent? – Week 8

There are a lot of perceptions and definitions commonly held about just what “talent” is. Some say that talent is something you are born with, while others say it can be created through practice. Some say that talent includes the big obvious things that someone does in life, while others say that someone can be talented in small, seemingly ordinary things. But in the business world, what is a good definition for talent? In this age, we know that every proactive company in the world is looking for top talent and has devoted a good deal of resources to finding talented individuals. So since the search for talent will inevitably be of great concern for some time, let’s take a look at a good definition of what it is that we are actually looking for.

What is talent?

Courtesy of Gallup in the book First, Break All The Rules, we are given a useful business definition of what talent is:

“A recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.”

Straight away we can see how this definition is significantly broader than the typical perception we grew up that reserved the label of “talent” for famous or exceptionally gifted people. Instead, we can now say that probably everyone has talent in one area or another, and furthermore, that talent is an ability that can be created through creating a positive pattern. It must be understood, however, that even though a talent can grow, it cannot be given. A person must create the talent for themselves – after all, we can’t create a pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior in someone else, can we? Of course not. We can only do this in ourselves.

How to transfer this information into finding, hiring, and retaining the best talent

As it turns out, this definition of talent is more complex and inclusive than we would (perhaps) like it to be. But that is the very beauty of it. Because it includes so many different positive patterns that people do, the power that this definition has is also multiplied. Take for example a hypothetical manager in search for a customer service employee. Without our definition, she might hire based primarily from experience or schooling. Yet with our definition, the things she would look for in an employee would clearly change. Does the applicant show a reoccurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that would favorably suit him for the position? Maybe it’s empathy towards others, or the ability to listen and provide helpful solutions. Both of these qualities would be classified as talents under our definition.

Or how about retaining our talented employees? The definition helps there, too. When a manager pays closer attention to the actual talents of their employees, they will see more opportunities to foster the growth of that talent within the life of both the employee and the business. In turn, a symbiotic relationship will emerge as the employee is able to use his talent, enjoy building upon it, and act as a successful piece of the business that recognizes and promotes his abilities.


Clifton, Don. (2010). First, Break All The Rules. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

10 thoughts on “What Is Talent? – Week 8

  1. Austin
    Talent is the ability to do your job and think a little outside of the box to bring efficiency or possible growth to your area of expertise.
    Someone without talent needs to considered for replacement some times.
    If there is a good manager they can usually detect that this employee might need a different field to stimulate them or excite them to come to work and find success.
    Then again if there is a negative personality keep in mind it is sometimes better to cut that loose before the thoughts pass on to others.
    Positive attitude and perception of how things can work better is the key to any good talent..

  2. I do believe that a talent can grow but not be given. We must create the talent for ourselves. After reading this I immediately thought of the following story. Growing up my father was in sales and was extremely successful. Every weekend he and mother and sometimes the children would entertain customers. I grew up with this. I am a very people social person. The last job I had at my 18 year stint at BofA was a mortgage loan officer. I fell in love with this job. I felt like I was on vacation….it was so easy for me. My past experiences helped me build on being good in sales and it became a talent I was good at. Growing up it was a recurring pattern to entertain customers. I was able to build on that.

  3. Bravo Austin!!

    The only thing I disagree on (and it’s probably more semantics) is your following statement. “It must be understood, however, that even though a talent can grow, it cannot be given. A person must create the talent for themselves – after all, we can’t create a pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior in someone else, can we? Of course not. We can only do this in ourselves.” A few things immediately come to mind on this subject matter (but again, not in every case); the young adult that ‘inherits’ their parents abilities – chip off the ol’ block as they say – the actual talent probably not but the genetics and the ability can be modeled and shaped by that said parent. What about the apprentice? The whole point of apprenticeships is to work for another while learning a trade. There are lots of blue collar jobs that are learned in this fashion (or maybe YouTube videos today – LOL)!!

  4. Austin, I loved reading this! We must break away from our traditional definition of “talent” in identifying that anyone can, in fact, be talented. A visionary leader is one who can see the best in people, help them achieve their goals (both personal and professional) and foster talents in others. The key to attracting and retaining talent lies primarily in the behavior of the organization and its leadership. This is so important to remember. Take Google for example — they retain talent by proving their employees are their most important asset. They foster the development of the entire person, and require each employee to pursue their personal interests and endeavors outside of work. They have a happy workforce, with a dedicated team, while still remaining incredibly profitable. Research has shown that companies who focus on the quality of life of all stakeholders not only improve employee retention and job-satisfaction, but also earn higher profits on average. Going the extra mile to make the individuals on a team feel as though their passions and interests are important has a multitude of benefits. Broadening our definition of what “talent” means can also improve our ability to retain it! Jeanette

  5. I really enjoyed your post Austin. I can tell you what stood out for me was the statement ” When a manager pays closer attention to the actual talents of their employees, they will see more opportunities to foster the growth of that talent within the life of both the employee and the business.” When this occurs this gives new energy to want to be the best employee you can.

    Great Post!

  6. This is a great post. Earlier, this month, my son who is in the fourth grade brought home a sheet of paper that he said needed to be posted in a place where he could read it everyday. I think talent and determination go hand in hand, and matches the formula Creativity X Organizational in “Making Ideas Happen Overcoming the obstacles between Vision & Reality'” by Scott Belsky. The way talent is applied in the Creativity X Organization formula is substituting Talent for Creativity and Practice for Organization. Giving you Talent X Practice and the way that it works is that you can have someone talented or gifted to play a musical instrument, but if that person is not pushed by peers or parents than they may let the talent fade away. Then you can have someone that is not that great a playing a musical instrument that is pushed and becomes something much greater by learning and enhancing the talent.
    Below is the sheet that was sent home, so easy a fourth grader can do it.

    10 Things that Require Zero Talent
    Being on Time
    Work Ethic
    Body Language
    Being Coachable
    Doing Extra
    Being Prepared

    I like that we can build upon talent and creativity and that anyone can do anything that they set their mind too.

  7. Austin I think that you’ve really hit on an important subject here. My first thought is how difficult it can be to get a job. Between programs that search resumes for key words and the need for degrees from certain institutions, I would think many “talented” individuals are passed as a result. It makes me thing about companies like Google that use very non-traditional methodologies in business and in hiring. I wonder if using a more broad definition like this if Google happens upon more individuals that suit their needs. I think regardless of your hiring process this certainly gives you food for thought. In contrast, I wonder does one talent make a person employable. I think, especially in todays market, most companies would say that a single talent doesn’t cut it. Just some things to think about.


  8. Wow, Austin, another great post! So, I always say I have “God given talents”. I do believe that God designed me to do what I am doing today. But it took a lot of work on my part to figure out what those talents were and to make them work for me. So, yes we are all made to be great, you have to dig deep, seek out what you love and define those talents.

  9. Austin the thought that comes to mind here is as a manager how do you assess in a 30-60 minute interview if a person show may “a reoccurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that would favorably suit him for the position?” Are interviews conduct in such a manner to reveal talents of exceptional skill sets? Which leads to the thought of the interviewee needs to be able to convey those in the interview. I read an article about CEO that asked unusual questions during interviews. For example if you were an animal, what would you be? What was the last costume you wore? On a scale of one to ten how lucky are you in life? The questions may be abnormal but they tell character traits. If a person says their luck ratio is one, then they do not expect good things to happen to them, they are pessimistic. Do you want that type of personality to contaminate the work environment? Oprah once said something like, “Do what you do so well that a person seeing it will think that God reserved it just for you.” Now that’s talent in all of us.

  10. Wow! this is an amazing post –
    I believe a talent distinguishes one from another. I think a talent is something that does not need to be guided; maybe instructed or practiced. Because I believe that one can learn something new everyday to improve their skill or craft.
    If one is taught something – they may learn it- but, the passion; the quality will be different from someone who is basically born to birth it.

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