Talent Management or Talent Witnessing?

What do you observe? Do people have talent because an organization gave it to them? Or, do people have talent, and they develop it? Talent is defined in the OED as a natural ability. It comes from PIE *tele– “to lift, support, weigh. It might derive from the value you bring, the wealth you have in what you can contribute.

If talent is a natural ability, is talent something for an organization to manage, to control, or is talent something to invite and witness? Do only a few, special people have talent, or is talent something that everyone has? In an interview with Claudia Tate, Maya Angelou observed:

I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.

Tate, C. (1985). Black Women Writers at Work. England, Oldcastle Books, p.7.

In our ecosynomic research, in 125 countries over the past 16 years, we find many descriptions of people with a very wide variety of talents, unique gifts they have developed. The highest performing groups we have found, large to small, are clear on the purpose they are serving and how to invite and deeply engage the many talents they need to achieve that purpose, in a collaborative way.

In many languages, people around the world describe the experience of these talents in terms of brilliance, of shining examples. Expressions of a person’s inner light, shining out. The term Homo lumens has emerged from this observation to describe a being of light, expressing itself through talents.

If everyone has innate talents, and everyone’s efforts need multiple talents of different types, maybe the task is to find out how to discover the treasures everyone has. That probably starts with asking and listening, with authentic curiosity and respect–the key that unlocks the code of the talent map, showing you where the treasures are. The treasures you seek, and maybe already have in front of you. Just ask.

What Work You Agree to Do: Recommended Reading

Suzman, J. (2021). Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. New York, Penguin Press.

You can hear a sample from the book (here).

Why do you work? Who are you working for? What, even, is work? In the book Work, anthropologist James Suzman takes us through a deep history, back to the early days as hunter-gatherers, looking at how what we consider to be work has shaped what we think it is today and how that determines, in great part, what we agree to do. Maybe it is all a choice. A choice that different peoples across the globe make differently, based on different assumptions that evolved from different circumstances.

The work we do also defines who we are; determines our future prospects; dictates where and with whom we spend most of our time; mediates our sense of self-worth; molds many of our values; and orients our political loyalties.

Work, p2

From an ecosynomic perspective, Suzman’s simple observation, from scanning anthropology’s observations of thousands of groups over the history of humanity, includes the 4 big questions of how much resource we have (the economic lens), who decides and enforces the allocation of resources (the political lens), the criteria used to decide what is valued (the cultural lens), and the rules of the game of how we interact (the social lens). How we understand what work is and what we agree to with work influences all of that. That seems like a significant choice: one we seldom are aware we are making.

One of the key factors in determining what we seem to accept in the definition of our work, through these 4 lenses (economic, political, cultural, social), is the underlying economic assumption of scarcity. Suzman points out that, according to the economist Keynes, the most pressing problem of the human race is the economic problem of scarcity–“there are simply not enough resources to satisfy everybody’s wants, everything is scarce” (p4).

But the problem of scarcity offers a bleak assessment of our species. It insists that evolution has molded us into selfish creatures, cursed to be forever burdened by desires that we can never satisfy.

Work, p5

While mainstream thinking suggests this scarcity-based view is the only one, Suzman observes that anthropologoical studies now show that “hunter-gatherers had few material desires, which could be satisfied with a few hours of effort. Their economic life was organized around the presumption of abundance rather than a preoccupation with scarcity. And this being so, there is good reason to believe that because our ancestors hunted and gathered for well over 95 percent of Homo sapiens’ 300,000-year-old history, the assumptions of human nature in the problem of scarcity and our attitudes of work have their roots in farming. Acknowledging that for most of human history our ancestors were not as preoccupied with scarcity as we are now reminds us that there is far more to work than our efforts to solve the economic problem” (pp6-7).

When economists define work as the time and effort we spend meeting our needs and wants, they dodge two obvious problems. The first is that often the only thing that differentiates work from leisure is context and whether we are being paid to do something or are paying to do it [for example, painting, gardening, writing]…The second problem is that beyond the energy we expend to secure our most basic needs–food, water, air, warmth, companionship, and safety–there is very little that is universal about what constitutes a necessity.

Work, p7

Suzman then defines work, “the closest thing to a universal definition of ‘work’–one that hunter-gatherers, pinstriped derivatives traders, calloused subsistence farmers, and anyone else would agree on–is that it involves purposefully expending energy or effort on a task to achieve a goal or end” (p8). This gets us to the choice of who is engaging your will, your purposeful energy, towards what purpose.

To understand how we got here, Suzman then takes us on the long journey of two pathways. “When it comes to charting the history of our relationship with work, there are two intersecting pathways that are the most obvious to follow. The first maps the story of our relationship with energy. At its most fundamental, work is always an energy transaction and the capacity to do certain kinds of work is what distinguishes living organisms from dead, inanimate matter. For only living things actively seek out and capture energy specifically to live, to grow, and to reproduce…The second pathway follows the human evolutionary and cultural journey… The journey down this pathway reveals how, as our ancestors developed the capacity to master many new different skills, our remarkable purposefulness was honed to the point that we re now capable of finding meaning, joy, and deep satisfaction in activities like building pyramids, digging holes, and doodling…But it is the points where these two pathways converge that are most important in terms of making sense of our contemporary relationships with work” (pp9-10). Suzman identifies four such convergences: when humans mastered fire; started storing food and farming; gathered in cities; and industrialized work in factories and mills.

In trying “to describe, measure, and compare accurately the capabilities of things like water wheels, cart horses, steam engines, and human beings” (p26), Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis coined the term “work,” and developed equations to describe it, basically as the transfer of energy. This solved the hard problem of being able to characterize and compare different forms of transferring energy, whether people, horses, or machines. This form of work is measured in joules or calories. And we see another form of energy, in our minds. The mind uses a different form of energy, according to George Armitage Miller. “‘Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy [free energy].., so the mind survives by ingesting information…(It) is now clear that all living things, from prokaryotes to plants, are informavores…Much of the energy captured by complex organisms with brains and nervous systems is used to filter, process, and respond to information acquired through their senses…With our super-plastic neocortices and well-organized senses, Homo sapiens are the gluttons of the informavore world…Our brains only constitute 2 percent of our total body weight but they consume around 20 percent of our energy resources…for most other mammals it is between 5 and 10 percent” (pp87-88, 104).

As you can tell, from the extensive quoting from this book, I found this to be a fascinating look at why we see work the way we do, how there are currently on the planet many different, evolved forms of how people see work, and this gives us the chance to choose how we engage with work. There is not one right answer for everyone. That would be a law of physics. Suzman shows anthropologically that there are many different answers, depending on your context, and what you choose to include in your context. Your choice.

Living Everyday from Abundance, for Everyone Everywhere, in Our Neighborhood: Recommended Reading

Mather, M. (2018). Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Is living in abundance-based agreements only for the rich and the educated, a luxury? Or is it a way of living available to all human beings who choose to say Yes! to human creativity, to seeing and supporting each other, to a healthy, vibrant community?

In Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, the Rev. Michael Mather describes the experience of his community, at the time in Indianapolis, and how they found the abundance in their community. He describes the individuals who brought this awareness to him. How he said Yes! to their gift, their unique contribution in their way of seeing abundance in the eyes of their neighbors, one at a time. The journey of how the community evolved to embrace more and more of these gifts, in a place many would have described as economically poor, where many would not expect to find abundance in their agreements.

Like the work of other community-based groups who find the strengths, the assets, the gifts residing everywhere in their community, in each human being, in each relationship, in each interaction, they began to learn to see the gifts, and how to say Yes! to them. In the world of complementary currencies, they call this matching unmet needs with underutilized resources. Seeing what is actually there, in great wealth, and where it could express. This book is full of practical examples of how they saw who wanted to share their mastery in cooking, in mechanics, in caretaking, in gardening, in event hosting. These are all activities they were paying for, outside of their community. They were able to see how to bring these within their community, often with far greater quality.

I highly recommend this very personal story of a leader and a community, who stepped into saying Yes! to the choices they faced, to the abundance-based agreements residing right there in their own community.

Our Mental Health and Wellbeing: Recommended Readings

How do we choose in vast swaths of uncertainty? Insights into how to choose your agreements, in any moment, for the now and for future, by our colleague Fred KrawchukNavigating Uncertainty with Strength, Focus and Agility

What are we learning about mental health, wellbeing and happiness? Here are some notes from our colleagues doing this work every day.

Mental Health for Teens — Learn about a “systems of caring” approach to teen mental health and well-being from our colleagues at the Well Being Trust, shared by Tyler Norris, Chief Executive, Well Being TrustIt’s Time To Invest In Better Health and Well-Being for Teens

Thriving Together — Our colleagues at the Well Being Trust share their findings for “Thriving Together,” as a path forward for what comes now and next. How to co-generate a more equitable recovery for all of us, as the United States — Well Being Trust Releases Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America

Flourishing Leaders — My colleagues Matt Lee, from Harvard’s Human Flourishing program, with Ed Brooks, Emmie Bidston and Katy Granville-Chapman cohost the eCourse Leading and Flourishing in Difficult Times with the Oxford Character Project, bringing the #ecosynomics of #abundance#sacredhospitality, and #cohosting to leadership in difficult times. I just completed the course myself–it is filled with insights, exercises, empowering interviews, useful resources. I highly recommend it to leaders who say Yes! to choice, Yes! to a future they love.

Human Flourishing — My colleague Tyler VanderWeele shares insights from research on the positive effects of volunteering on human flourishing — Volunteering and Human Flourishing

Global Happiness Movement — Our colleagues at the WOHASU Foundation hosted Richard Layard, co-editor of the UN’s World Happiness Report and LSE economist, sharing his observations on the status of the Global Happiness Movement — Status of the Global Happiness Movement featuring Richard Layard & hosted by Karen Guggenheim

Collaboration Across Boundaries: If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?

Meet April 11-14 with leaders from around the globe exploring the micro inner work, macro outer systems, meso organizational performance, and how the agreements we make at these levels influence the experience we have and the impacts we achieve.  Collaboration is serious work.  Co-hosted by Intergen and the Money&Business Partnership, this 4-day event (11-14 April 2021) guides your deep dive into this serious work. Work that is yours to do. Register for this gathering, the 7th Money & Business Partnership Congress by clicking here.

On day 4, I will share with the group what we are learning about deep collaboration in very-high-performing groups as they generate ecologies of sacred hospitality, achieving massive impacts through regenerative organizing forms.  Please join us, and invite your colleagues as well.  This is your big Yes!

Gratitude to Awesome Cohosts — My EGADE MBA Strategy Class F2020

I was very fortunate to be able to invite some amazing leaders to visit with my “Strategy in Organizations” class in the EGADE Business School del Tecnológico de Monterrey program this past Fall 2020.

Purpose — Grateful to Jay Harris for speaking about his experience in leading with the power of purpose.

Leadership Ethics — Really enjoyed having Matt Lee of the Harvard Human Flourishing Program share his work on Ethics and Values.

Strategic ContextCarolyn McCarthy shared her experience in co-hosting the strategic systems-change process. How to determine the boundaries and content of your STRATEGIC CONTEXT, with systemic strategy. Carolyn shared her experience with Open Opportunity Massachusetts (https://lnkd.in/dXT2J2d), using strategic systems mapping and collaborative processes to identify the dynamics and stakeholders defining the “strategic context” of K-12 education for all children in the state of Massachusetts (USA).

Strategic Resources — Grateful to Luz Maria Puente for sharing her work in bringing systemic strategic clarity [https://lnkd.in/d4kRBcM] to an organization’s understanding and implementation. What are my company’s MOST STRATEGIC resources? How do we scale them and leverage their impact, while regenerating the resources we need to sustain this?

Strategic Leverage — I thank Annabel Membrillo for sharing her experience in getting a large group of stakeholders to identify strategic systemic leverage interventions and then implement them. LEVERAGE, the ability to get far more from the system than we put into it–much greater effectiveness and efficiency with the same inputs. Strategic systemic leverage is critical to move the dial on seemingly intractable, complex issues like education, health, housing, and energy [https://lnkd.in/ddmwEGe].

My Own Leadership. I thank Hernando Aguilera for sharing his experience in guiding leaders through this inquiry of “Designing Your Life”. Who is DESIGNING MY LIFE? I would like to think I am. When we look at the underlying agreements that determine what I do, who I interact with, and how I interact, we discover a high percentage of agreements I have unconsciously accepted [https://lnkd.in/daQpyTp]. This means that someone or something else is designing my life, at home and at work. I can change this, designing my own life, at home and work.

Shifting Organizational Agreements — With deep gratitude to Ana Cláudia Gonçalves for sharing her experience, in leading large organizations through shifts in their outcomes and experiences by experimentally evolving their deeper agreements about who they are, what they do, and how they do it [https://lnkd.in/dgpKX28]. We want different OUTCOMES and different EXPERIENCES. We are not living up to what we know we are capable of being and doing. How do we change this?The class was also deeply inspired by her example of a young person successfully taking up leadership of a large organization and proving far greater results with innovative, more equitable practices

Implementing Strategy — I am grateful to Fred Krawchuk for sharing well-tested practices for rigor-testing strategy implementation. Robust agreements–agreements that work when the situation is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA), our new everyday reality.

Strategic Information — Lots of gratitude to Michael Puleo for sharing what he observes as the state of the art in strategic information systems. Did it work? We had a STRATEGY–we saw a future state, we saw a way to it, we tried it. Did we get the FEEDBACK about whether it worked? What information do we need, to know if what we saw worked? How do we adjust what we see and what we do based on what we learned? What strategic measures help me see the effects of my strategy on my impact and on my resilience?

Leading in Wicked Problems — Deep thanks to Edward Brooks for sharing his insights on the fundamental shifts required in how leaders take up 21st-century “wicked problems” through human-focused organization. What is required to LEAD today?  What they taught my parents about leadership in business school was similar to what they taught me, a generation later–direct, divide, manage, and conquer through well-structured controls. Many schools still teach these same leadership principles, another generation later. The “wicked problems” leadership faces today are completely different than the “tame problems” faced by earlier generations. How does one lead when it is not even clear what the problem is, and it is not clear when the problem has been solved? These characteristics require human-focused, deeply collaborative leadership.

Values in Leadership — Grateful to Prof. Elliott Kruse for sharing the latest in research on the impact of values in leadership

Collaborative Leadership — Deep gratitude to Jared Duval for sharing his experience in leading the Energy Action Network in Vermont. Leading a set of very diverse groups of people, from different industries and different social-political-economic perspectives, coming together to address wickedly complex problems sounds impossible, or at least really hard, doesn’t it? It is, until it is not. It depends on (1) what you understand your leadership role to be and (2) how you choose to organize. with my “Strategy in Organizations” class in the EGADE Business School del Tecnológico de Monterrey MBA program.

Leader: Know, Love, and Inspire Your People — Recommended Reading

Taking my own leadership to the next level, to where it HAS TO BE for the work that it is mine to do. Hard questions of what I need to take on.   I just finished reading the book “Leader: Know, Love, and Inspire Your People” by Katy Granville-Chapman and Emmie Bidston, walking me through simple exercises with lots of cases of how other leaders use these practices and how these practices affected their engagement and outcomes. Thank you!

#leadershipdevelopment #oxfordcharacterproject

The State of Art of Collaborative Networks: Recommended Readings

With almost 2 decades of experience in funding and deeply engaging in collaborative networks for systems change, our colleagues are sharing their observations.

Our colleague Jennie Curtis at the Garfield Foundation shares her insights from 16 years of leading foundation support for #collaborativenetworks of #systemschangeDigging Out of Philanthropy’s Entrenched Practices

Institute for Strategic Clarity CHOICE Fellow Ruth Rominger, who serves as the Collaborative Networks Program Director with the Garfield Foundation, reflects on why Garfield invests in the development and evolution of #systemsinformed #collaborativenetworksHow Living into our Questions Led us to Fund Networks

Saying YES! with Christian Ray Flores — Podcast Interview

Yes! Saying Yes!, a Big YES! to your life, to your work, to your contribution to a future you care about, makes all the difference. I am grateful to Christian Ray Flores and his team at Third Drive for hosting me on their podcast in this fun exploration of why saying Yes! to human creativity drives success, what we are learning in 100s of groups and in our research.

The Public K-12 Education System We Choose

An awesome, state-wide, systemic approach to strategically shifting public K-12 education towards truly equity-based flourishing as regenerative communities

#strategic-systems-change #ooma