Hardwork vs Hardwired

"I'll take a hard working employee any day over a talented employee;" David erupted, "these folks with talent turn out to depend only on their talent and nothing else."  We had just met at a business event, and were having a conversation about talent and hard work, and my new acquaintance was quite vocal about his preference. As a talent discovery coach, people will often engage me on this topic; some just to make a point about their preference.

So, if you had to choose, would you take a hard working person over a talented person? I guess the answer would depend on what you need the person to do. My preference will always lean towards starting with talent. But it does not stop there. Ask any sports coach, they'll tell you that they always start with talent; hard work is a discipline that can be taught. When I brought up the sports reference during my conversation, David's response was "that is sports, and not the work place; it's different." Is it? I don't think so.

Hard Work is A Choice:

And yes, our success in life is based largely on the choices we make. Anybody can choose to work hard, and if sustained over a long period, this choice becomes a personal trait. That said, hard work will not always yield the desired results we expect. Take a client I'll call Brenda. She finds herself in sales positions where she spends most of her time making cold calls. Brenda is a hard worker, and will give her best effort to anything she works on. There is an aspect of cold calling that has to do with the number of calls you make; more calls you make, the more opportunities you have to close more sales on average (hey, i'm no sales expert.) This was Brenda's approach to work. Deep down inside, she hated cold calling. Every call came with internal angst, but she pushed through. She made the number of calls she set out to make daily, and had good results overall. On the surface, Brenda was the type of employee any sales organization was looking for. Beneath the surface however, this star employee was withering away. She was not wired for the sales positions she held. She did not enjoy cold calling but had to do it to earn a paycheck.

There are certain traits that predispose a person to like or not like certain types of sales positions. Brenda was a Specialist, an Ambivert and scored low in Idea Productivity. There are many profiles that lean towards success in sales, but one key ability they all have in common is mid to high Idea Productivity. The other abilities will determine what type of sales role/offering will fit each person best. Brenda chose to work hard in sales, and did okay, but she remained unhappy and dissatisfied with her work. Her hard work could not compensate for her low Idea Productivity.

Hard work is a choice, and a good choice it is. But it will not always yield the result we want in terms of productivity.

Talent is Hard Wired:

You were born with certain neural connections already in place. It was not your choice. Those neural connections make you naturally suited for certain tasks, whether you like it or not. You are how you are for the most part because of how you've always been. Can you make new neural connections? Yes. Can you lose the neural connections you were born with? No. Do the neural connections make you an expert? No.

What then is the use of our talents/natural abilities? They make it easier for us to learn and perform certain tasks better than others. Your talents give you an edge in life. All things being equal, the person with a talent for numbers will outperform someone without that talent. Another client, I'll call Kris, hated his job, or so he thought. He was a consultant in the technology space. As we talked and reviewed his talent profile, what stood out to me was that he was actually in the right type of work, Consulting, but in the wrong type of Consulting. Kris was a Specialist, Extrovert and high in Idea Productivity; his job required him to be a Generalist and offer a broad range of options to his clients. Specialists must have an outlet to dive deep into their topic, and become experts. For Kris to enjoy his work, he had to find a consulting role in a company that specializes in a niche or sub-niche of an industry. Not IT, but Internet Security; not Healthcare, but Cancer solutions; not Energy, but Nuclear energy or Renewable energy. Specialists operate an inch wide and a mile deep in their thinking.

Kris realized that his frustration at work stemmed from being constantly required to stay out of deep dives with clients. He was in the wrong place, and his natural pre-wiring was working against him. You cannot hide from how you are wired, no matter how hard you work. You give your best in your area of talent. Armed with this information, Kris left his job, took a long vacation, and  rewrote his resume to specifically target expertise-focused consulting firms. As I write this blog, he has interviewed with 3 companies all aligned with the way he needs to work. He is excited at the new opportunities ahead of him.

You can't teach talent. You can't choose to learn a talent. You can only identify and develop your talents.

Talent Plus Hard Work:

This is the winning formula. Instead of one over the other, get the best of both; work hard in your talent zone. Find out how you are wired, figure out the best environment to apply this, and then work your butt off. You'll be amazed at how fast you excel in your chosen field. In the field of expertise development, scientists have found that those who excel in studied fields like music, sports, or chess are those who identified their abilities early in life, and then spent at least 4 hours a day in Deliberate Practice (different from regular practice.) They all started with the talent.

We can apply the same principle in our chosen career field; figure out how you are wired, what you do well, and then work hard at developing your abilities and then delivering them to your organization or clients.

This is the key to fulfilling success. I am not sure David will ever agree with my premise; some people will and some will not. What is important is that you figure out where you stand, and then pursue your success. 

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Talent Resources

DNA of Talent
A Blueprint for Discovering Your Talents and Putting Them to Work

Finding Your Sweet Spot
Where your Talents, Interests and Passions converge to deliver the life you were born to live.