How to find great talent: 4 questions for Bloomberg View’s George Anders
Here’s a question that bedevils everyone from Fortune 500 boards seeking a replacement CEO to school principals hiring a new algebra teacher, from families looking for a great electrician to baseball teams searching for a better shortstop:
How do you find extraordinary, game-changing talent?
George Anders is a top-shelf business journalist, a veteran of the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and now Bloomberg View. For the last couple of years, he’s tried to answer that question by hanging out with the best talent spotters in the world – the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, a squadron of basketball scouts, the folks at Facebook, and many more.
The result is The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, which hits stores today. (Buy it from Indie Bound, BN.com, Amazon.com or 8CR.) I had a chance to read the galleys several months ago – and I enjoyed it so much I asked George if he’d do a short interview explaining some of the core concepts for PinkBlog readers.
You looked at talent both widely and deeply. What’s the big insight you had after completing this book that you didn’t have when you began it?
Everybody should be searching for resilience, and hardly anyone does. Being able to bounce back from adversity is crucial in just about every field I examined. You need resilience to be a great CEO, a great teacher, soldier, investor, etc., etc. But when we hire, we’re taught to regard setbacks — regardless of what came next — as flaws in a candidate. So when we prepare our own resumes, we hide our stumbles. That’s wrong! We should cherish people who have extricated themselves from trouble in the past.
I was especially intrigued by your idea of the “jagged resume” in part because I realized that I myself sorta had one of these way back when. Tell us what you mean by that term and why it matters.
Steve Jobs is a perfect example. Both in the 1970s and the 1990s, his life was a wild blend of great strengths and apparent failures. He had this awesome imagination, persuasiveness, ambition and design aesthetic. But he was a college dropout who later got forced out of one company (Apple) and couldn’t make a success of another (NeXT.) You could come up with lots of reasons why his resume was too erratic — too jagged — to make him a good bet. But to appreciate someone like that, you need to see why his strengths matter so much, and why his apparent flaws aren’t important.
You also write about “talent that whispers” — and why it’s sometimes undervalued. Give us an example and explain why we should notice this expression of ability.
Look at the amateur baseball draft, where some teams stop picking after 30 rounds because they assume all the good players have already been grabbed. Every year or two, a future All-Star sits unclaimed. Mike Piazza, the great catcher, was a 62nd round pick. Weird but true. Especially when you’re dealing with young, unproven people, some candidates show just a glimmer of promise. Their talent whispers. Don’t scoff at them. Look to open the door, just a crack, so that when long shots come of age, they’re more likely to be working for you than for the competition.
Let’s say a PinkBlog reader wants to be a “rare find” him or herself. What are some specific things he or she should be doing to stand out from the crowd?
Find the frontier. If you want to be extraordinary, restlessness is a virtue. It’s also a great traveling companion for resilience; if you can combine the two of them, your chances of finding society’s greatest opportunities in any particular decade are huge. Hang out with people just as driven and passionate as you. The great hotbeds of talent are self-sustaining because competitive internal friendships guide rapid progress. When in doubt, come back to autonomy, mastery and purpose. Those are keepers!