The Era of Talent?

What comes to mind when you hear the word "talent"? A favourite musician or top fashion designer? Maybe the British football (soccer) icon David Beckham as he sets a new U.S. sports earnings record with his transfer to the L.A. Galaxy in what will be the swan song of his playing career?

Back in 1997, Tom boldly pronounced in The Circle of Innovation that "Everyone is a Michelangelo." But how many people who run businesses today really believe that, or more importantly, where can we see this thinking profitably in action?

In my experience, Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management still dominate most organisations. The senior managers I meet can all make great speeches on the need for innovation, but observably spend most of their time managing compliance. A recent conversation with a supermarket executive was illuminating. He was talking with a group of senior managers about how to get staff in their stores to be more willing to try out their new ideas. "They should try doing what they are told for a change," he quipped, "That would be something new round here!" Forced laughs all round.

In our high wage economies, exploiting the talent of our people is critical, and yet a small elite, maybe the output of our best universities or business schools, get the privilege of being treated as if they have "talent" when they join us. How many companies would have spotted the talent of an Eric Clapton, a Stella McCartney, or a David Beckham if they were lucky enough to have recruited them? How would their multi-million-dollar talents have blossomed in this so-called "Era of Talent"?