Throughout my career, whether working with clients or interviewing for jobs; managers have pondered the age-old question, “Should I be hiring smart or hiring talent?” I’ve heard phrases like “I need smart people who can jump in and figure it out” or “I need talented people who can take the lead on this”. In many instances, the words were used interchangeably. However, there are distinct differences between them and both have their drawbacks.
As a manager, you must ask yourself three questions:1. What’s the difference (If you don’t already know)?
2. Which type best suits my organization?
3. How do I nurture their ability and limit the impact of the drawbacks?
Talented people are those who set the gold standard for a particular function, or in some cases, several. They have a natural ability and skill for their given area of focus. Smart people are those who have an intellect and a thirst for expansive knowledge. They have an ability to see concepts and understand a number of areas that others may not possess.
This is not to say that talented people are not smart or smart people are not talented. It simply means that this inherent ability has manifested as the dominant character trait which was developed through experience or personal nurturing.
For a sense of clarity in hiring smart vs. hiring talent, let’s look at two great examples. Here we have two well-respected, globally recognized businessmen: Sir Richard Branson and Warren Buffet. Both men have been immensely successful, are diversified in numerous business ventures, and have amassed billions of dollars in wealth.
Buffet is what I would call the talented one. Buffet’s talent is his keen sense of investing and a “yoda-like” ability to predict financial market activity. People have paid millions of dollars (with proceeds to charity) to enjoy a private conversation to pick his brain. Branson is the smart one. Branson built much of his fortune on the success of Virgin Records, but where his success truly lies has been his ability to expand the Virgin brand into multiple business ventures of varying size and complexity. In the process, Virgin became a global name and is ever expanding as Branson looks to continue pushing himself to new pursue new challenges.
What does all this mean? When managing these two types, their drive and energy comes from being placed in situations where they can demonstrate how smart or talented they are. Smart people look for challenges that stretch them beyond what’s comfortable. Their success or ability to “figure it out” helps them demonstrate how smart they are. Talented people look for new an inventive ways to use their talent to solve new challenges. Overcoming those obstacles helps them demonstrate what they consider their natural ability.
Regardless if your company is hiring smart or hiring talent, you will want to avoid the pitfalls of both types which can manifest themselves in misplaced arrogance and blind spots. Some of the problems talented people face is that they can become too reliant on the talent and feel that continuous work is not needed. Talented people can also become shut off from those deemed not of equal skill level.
When Michael Vick burst on the NFL scene in 2001, he was considered a generational talent. His combination of speed and arm strength was unlike anything the NFL had ever seen. However, Vick was notoriously known for his lack of study, film review, and game preparation.
Similar to talented individuals, smart individuals’ greatest asset is also their biggest weakness. Their ability to “figure it out” can come at the expense of critical time lost. For some smart people, seeking out the subject matter experts or the talented ones can be seen as a personal failure. These individuals may be more inclined to continue to work on the given problem at a time when outside assistance is the better option. Where smart people fall short is not knowing or not acknowledging what they do not know, otherwise known as being self-aware. This creates the blind spot for smart people.
Hiring smart vs. hiring talent is about company needs. Organizations should want a good mix of both types. You want to utilize the talented people for the specialized areas and those requiring a level of expertise. The smart people are your strategists who look for new and innovative ways of approach. Leadership comes in many forms and organizations are duty-bound to recognize which type of leaders, smart or talented, are best suited for the organization and how can they provide the best opportunities for success.