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Monday, June 02, 2008

ASTD Keynote - Malcolm Gladwell

Next up at ASTD - Malcolm Gladwell - new book in November - Outliers - how people get to be successful. Talks about two kinds of creative styles:
  • Experimental innovator - never has a big bold idea, works slowly, trial-and-error, empirical, approach master
  • Conceptual innovator - big idea, can execute it themselves
He draws this distinction in artists, writers and the point is that it applies to any kind of field.

We have a tendency to value the conceptual innovator more than the experimental innovator. He spends about 10 minutes to show this through discussion of Fleetwood Mac vs. the Eagles and how the music industry focuses on conceptual innovators today.

Compares scouting combines in sports to how you select talent. Break down into specific skills and measure against those skills. He claims that scouting combine scores have almost no correlation to actual abilities. In the NBA, Kevin Durant - 75 out of 81 people in combines, but he was rookie of the year. Very little correlation. Similar issue of intelligence tests in the NFL. I have to check his facts - Bradshaw, Marino, McNabb all scored among the lowest on intelligence?

Interesting to juxtapose this versus the discussion of talent management by Tony Bingham. Talent management likes to look at things exactly this way.

Gladwell's claim is that you really want to find an experimental innovator in sports or other talent - who is going to grow into a star. Some of his main points:
  • Talent is not a narrow, fixed thing.
  • Picking talent requires judgment - hero of stories are those that can see future talent
  • Along the way, talent will make a lot of mistakes
  • Flexibility is required to be successful growing talent
  • Measures (if they can even be done) must be much broader than simple skills measurement
  • Must be patient
  • Must be prepared to help
Commentary - the problem here is that in the fast paced world with a fluid flow of talent that we have today, how do you balance the need for immediate performance versus the need to be patient, develop over time, etc. To me a key aspect that is missing here is the transition of thinking about the corporation as being the key talent manager - that has moved to the individual. The corporation still has responsibility, but the individual has greater responsibility.

When you think about the parallel of this with the sports world - it's pretty close. Listen to any sports talk radio and they will talk about how you can try to draft for players who will have immediate impact or those who may develop into a bigger, more valuable player. There's a definite trade-off to be made in that choice. It's a tough choice to make. And the right answer is situational. Sometimes getting the lineman who will make immediate impact is a better choice than drafting a quarterback who may or may not develop into a star in three years.

I wish we could have had some discussion with Gladwell vs Bingham. Could have been pretty interesting.

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