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The war for workers

Published on 20 June 2016 by Frank Gerritzen

Over the years, we have been brainwashed into thinking that a competitive war is being waged for the most ‘talented people’. To me, the expression war for talents has an offensive connotation. It implies that you are either in or out, you are either talented or you are not. And if, according to some subjective criteria set by a secret society composed, I suppose, of Academics, Chief Human Resources Officers, CEOs and I hope some psychologists, you are not talented, you are on a professional dead-end track. Tough luck.

As you have guessed by now, the expression war for talents irritates me to the uttermost. We already know that taller men earn more than shorter ones and attractive women get ahead faster than the less physically advantaged. At least we can comprehend, short of approving of, those differentiators, unjust as they may seem. But what in the world is a ‘talent’? A gifted person? Gifted for what? I know of people, in all sorts of domains, who are successful at whatever they undertake: they learn a language quicker than others, they know how to bond socially. They just seem incredibly successful in everything they do. But let’s not lose track of reality here: those people are really rare exceptions. But they too have flaws and weaknesses. They are very good at something, which does not mean they are good at everything.

Talent is just hogwash. Talent is not a gift; talent is work. Repetitive, hard, work. Let’s not confuse the two: if one becomes good at something, for 99.99% of the population, it means they have invested in that field and worked very hard at it.

When we meet successful people, and in our line of business we meet a lot, there is not a single one who has ever told us that they were just talented, sailing smoothly over their career, simply working 40-hour weeks, and were then promoted because of their ‘innate talent’. No, they worked harder, longer hours, and sacrificed personal life to get ahead. Is that good? I don’t know and I don’t care, that is for you to decide. The point being that if you want to get ahead, leaning too much on your talent (which is by definition an illusion) won’t get you from A to B. Hard work will.

So please stop the war for talent once and for all and call a truce: you are looking for people who have the motivation, the energy and the ambition to get ahead. Those who are willing to invest in their careers. Talent has nothing to do with it, it has everything to do with hard work. And if you really must use military terminology: we are in for a war for workers.