Chapter 1. We Are All Talent Now

Biologists often talk about the 'ecology' of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is not the tallest just because it grew from the hardiest acorn: it is the tallest also because no others blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.

Malcolm Gladwell Outliers (Little, Brown and Company 2008)

What is talent and how is it best viewed? This chapter explains about talent and why we believe talent cannot be managed. It introduces the main issues, in particular, the belief that the context in which talent operates is as important as the individual, and the fact that engaging the whole workforce is not simply one leadership task among many, it is leadership. Crucially, it also explains why elite approaches to talent management don't work, and why successful businesses need to get better at realizing the potential of different types of talent across the workforce.

In the summer of 1965 Gary Flandro was a summer intern with the NASA space agency. At that time, NASA was in the middle of the first Mariner missions to Mars and Flandro was given the routine and supposedly far less interesting task of calculating, in detail, the movement and relative positions of the planets and the best time to launch a probe for a future expedition to Jupiter.

Gary Flandro approached the task carefully and enthusiastically. He understood that the gravitational field ...

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