This week we see at Belgian airports and British railways what happens when not only the talent supply, but also the talent itself balks. How should companies spot talent?We have to deal with talent differently, it sounds. But often companies have no idea what they mean by talent. If you don’t know what talent you’re aiming for, you can’t handle it properly. This week I saw a video of the professional Google Maps player Rainbolt on social media. He looks at a Street View image for a tenth of a second and that is enough for him to figure out where on Earth the image was taken. An incredible talent, but I don’t see any use for it except in a James Bond movie.

To understand useful talent, companies need to answer the questions below. Any of those questions can spark a heated debate. Don’t worry, you can’t lose that debate, because there is no accepted definition of talent.Be less risk averse when recruiting talent. That one skill can be a hundred times more important to your business than another safe all-rounder. ‘Do you mean an exclusive or an inclusive approach to talent?’ Inclusive means that you believe that all employees have strengths that contribute value to the company. Everyone is important and the task is to discover their strengths and use them in the right way.

You may be more likely to believe that a small group of people contribute a lot of value. That’s the exclusive approach to talent. There is quite a lot of scientific support for that. In many sectors it is a select group of talent that makes or breaks an organization. They are the Elon Musks, Lionel Messis, Beyoncés and Tom Cruises of this world. If you follow that theory, you should do everything you can to identify, reward and retain the very best talent early. But most companies don’t operate in that kind of winner-takes-all environment. Do you really need such top talent? Be careful, because colleagues can hurt them closing the door behind them if you only exceptionally reward top performers.’Is talent innate or can be developed?’ Of course it’s both, but you can easily get rid of it that way. Some talents are simply more determined by what is innate than others. You may have read that 10,000 hours of practice makes anyone an expert. That’s wrong. Research estimates that intense exercise determines 21 percent of success in music, 18 percent in sports, 4 percent in academic education and less than 1 percent for some professions.

Not every talent can be developed. If your organization needs talent that requires few innate skills, don’t be picky. Recruit broadly and develop your own talents.’Is talent about the person or about specific skills?’ If the person is important, then you look for a talented person and create a job around that. Most companies, on the other hand, start with a job description and then look for specific skills for that position. But specific skills are extremely difficult to identify.

Our judgment is fooled by our general judgment of a person. That leads us too often to choose the predictable, average candidate – we prefer someone who scores well across the board over someone with one exceptional skill, but who may have a few downsides. Be less risk averse when recruiting talent. That one skill can be a hundred times more important to your business than another safe all-rounder.

The ultimate skill is the talent to learn new skills.Share on TwitterThe ultimate skill, of course, is the ability to learn new skills. Learning ability is a combination of an open, curious personality and cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are the best predictor of success in almost all jobs. This is partly innate and partly developable through good education. As an organization you do not know what the talent is that you will need tomorrow. That means you want people with super learning abilities who pick up new skills quickly. That makes learning ability perhaps the talent for the future.

Learning ability, the talent for the future | The time