Talent (and its difference from Skills & Knowledge)

Introduction

I’ve picked the book “First, Break All the Rules” back up as I strive to learn more about managing people, and have been blown away by the wisdom in it gathered by the enormous studies done by the Gallup Organization. The first section of this book (which I read earlier this year) inspired my other Discourse topic “A Better Onboarding”. Now I’m back to summarize some of what I’ve learned more recently about talents.

Defining Talent and its Differences from Skills or Knowledge

The most important difference is that skills and knowledge can both be taught. Sometimes it requires persistence, but skills and knowledge can be transferred or acquired. Talent on the other hand cannot, regardless of the amount of persistence any individual or group may have. Talents are those deeply ingrained habits we possess because of the lives we’ve lived and the structures of our brains. Talents are deeply intuitive to us.

Talents are the filters we’ve been forced to create in our brains while being alive. It tells you which stimuli to focus on or ignore, to love or hate, so that you can function. From this comes our motivations, how we think, our attitudes in life. This filter which dictates your distinct patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior are, in effect, the source of your innate talents.

Because of your unique filter, you are a deeply unique individual who will respond to stimuli in a deeply unique way. What’s excruciating for someone else, may be pleasant for you. Something tedious for you, may be extremely fascinating to another. Let this uniqueness guide you to the role that fits you best.

It can help to imagine our brains as maps consisting of 4 lane highways that expediently send signals, and “deadzones” where no traffic crosses. In our early teens, our brains take all the expansive roads we’ve created thus far, and pares them down to those most frequently used. The most relevant roads get expanded into highways that allow fast, efficient traffic. The most underused roads fall into disrepair and create deadzones that are difficult if not impossible to cross. In some cases, we can create some one-lane roads through deadzones later in life, but only with extreme effort, resources, and support.

The wisdom offered in this book is this: don’t focus all your energy on trying to eliminate your weaknesses or deadzones. Instead, embrace, hone, and position yourself to use those 4-lane highways to the best advantage you can.

What are Skills?

Skills are the how-to’s of any role. They are capabilities that can be transferred or taught from one person to another. Skills can be broken down to their component steps to be reassembled and practiced by a student, who can gain the specific skills demonstrated.

Examples of skills are; arithmetic for an accountant, microsoft Excel for an assistant, administering a safe injection for nurses, the steps of brewing espresso for a barista, how to pour concrete for a construction worker, etc.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is “what you are aware of”.

There is factual knowledge which are the things you must know in order to appropriately do a role. Such as a construction site manager knowing the safety regulations required by the state, a food service worker understanding germ theory and the appropriate ways to keep food safe, a financial advisor who knows the economic laws of the country, or the safety regulations a flight attendant knows by heart.

There is also experiential knowledge which are the pieces of understanding you gain from having done something for a long enough time (I, personally, might call this wisdom). This kind of knowledge is like knowing that it’s important to check for rain before scheduling to paint the outside of a house, the way a store manager knows the ebb and flow of the buying season and hires on more employees during the holidays, or that certain customers want a lot of attention from a sales accociate but others would prefer to be left alone.

Your awareness of who you are, your values, why you make certain choices are also examples of experiential knowledge you gain over time through the act of listening to yourself.

What are Talents?

Talents are unique from skills or knowledge in that they cannot be taught, they are innate. These are the four-lane highways in your brain that you are able to easily access because it’s what you’ve been doing your entire life. You don’t gain or lose talents, you are your talents and your talents are you. Your talents are any of your recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be “productively” applied in your life. Your talents are the behaviors and filter through which you live your life.

While you can hone the talents you have, and if absolutely necessary, you could build a one-lane road through your deadzones with hard work; it’s a futile and demoralizing experience to try and construct a new 4-lane highway in your brain. Better to identify your innate talents and find the role that allows you to capitalize on them, rather than pouring all your energy into transforming your weaknesses.

Every person alive has talents. Every role performed with excellence requires talent. It’s just about finding (or in my case, designing) the right role and environment in which to practice your innate talents.

The Three Types of Talent:

Below are descriptions of the three types of talents. I’d be surprised if anyone made it through life without developing at least a few talents of each type. You’ll see a list of examples for each type I pulled from the book’s appendix, but these examples are by no means exhaustive and simply give you a better sense of the character of each of the three types.

Striving

Your striving talents are the why, the motivations of your life. What creates a sensation of drive for you? Why do you get out of bed every day? What is it that pushes you to engage in your work, or your relationships, your life in general? Is it your competitiveness? Your desire to do things for others? Your need to be distinctive?

Examples of Striving Talents:

  • Achiever: A drive to achieve that is internal, constant, and self-imposed
  • Kinesthetic: A need to expend physical energy
  • Stamina: Capacity for physical endurance.
  • Competition: A need to gauge your success comparatively
  • Desire: A need to claim significance through independence, excellence, risk, and/or recognition. (LB might call this “Acclaim”)
  • Competence: A need for expertise or mastery.
  • Belief: a need to orient your life around certain prevailing values
  • Mission: A drive to put your beliefs into action
  • Service: A drive to be of service to others
  • Ethics: A clear understanding of right and wrong which guides your actions
  • Vision: A drive to paint a value-based idea about the future
  • Thrill: A need to seek out thrilling, risky, or otherwise highly activating experiences (Added by LB)

Thinking

Your thinking talents are about how you do things. How do you come to your decisions, how do you tackle challenges, how do you weigh your options? Do you like to keep all your options open? Do you prefer to be disciplined, or as unstructured as possible? When you think are you linear? Strategic? Whimsical?

Examples of Thinking Talents:

  • Focus: An ability to set goals and use them to guide daily actions
  • Discipline: a need to impose structure onto life and work
  • Arranger: an ability to orchestrate
  • Work Orientation: a need to mentally rehearse and review
  • Gestalt: A need to see or create order and accuracy
  • Responsibility: a need to assume personal accountability for your work
  • Concept: an ability to develop a framework by which to make sense of things
  • Performance Orientation: A need to be objective and to measure performance
  • Strategic Thinking : An ability to play out alternative scenarios of the future
  • Economic Thinking: The financial application of strategic thinking talent
  • Problem Solving: An ability to think things through with incomplete data
  • Formulation: An ability to find coherent patterns within incoherent or unorganized data (perceiving patterns)
  • Numerical: An affinity for and understanding of numbers
  • Creativity: An ability to break existing configurations in favor of more effective/appealing ones
  • Wonder: An ability to see the unique beauty, whimsy, and/or marvel in anything. (Added by LB)

Relating

Your relating talents are about how you interact in your social relationships. Whom do you trust? How do you confront others? Whom do you build relationships with? Whom do you ignore?

Examples of Relating Talents:

  • Woo: A need to gain the approval of others
  • Empathy: An ability to identify the feelings and perspectives of others
  • Relator: A need to build bonds that last
  • Multirelator: An ability to build an extensive network of acquaintances
  • Interpersonal: An ability to purposely capitalize upon relationships
  • Individualized Perception: An awareness of and attentiveness to the differences in individuals
  • Developer: A need to invest in others and to derive satisfaction in doing so
  • Stimulator: An ability to create enthusiasm and drama for yourself and others
  • Team: A need to build feelings of mutual support
  • Positivity: A need to look on the bright side
  • Persuasion: An ability to persuade others logically
  • Command: an ability to take charge or lead
  • Activator: An impatience to move others to action
  • Courage: An ability to use emotion to overcome resistance
  • Assertive: An ability or need to bring your perspective forward (regardless of the topic’s sensitivity)
  • Confrontation: An ability or need to derive satisfaction from sparring with and overcoming resistance

Share Yourself!

As I (LB) progress in SourceCred, I hope to help others within the project find the intersection between their talents and the roles SourceCred needs played. Eventually, I hope for an entire “class” of participant populated by people who excel at seeing and guiding the talents of others.

So, I’m curious!:

In these three areas, which talents do you see in yourself? Whether they’re listed in the examples, or not.

Which talents do you see in other SourceCred participants?

What kinds of talents do you think fit what kinds of roles or environments best?

Which of your talents feel truly exercised when you work on SourceCred? Which talents feel unsatisfyingly underutilized to you?

What do your talents tell you about the roles you’ve played in work environments? Social environments? When you’re alone?

Your reply can be detailed, or a simple list. Share anything you want to about yourself, your talents, or things you’ve realized through reading this!

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I’ll get us started with the replies! Your reply post doesn’t need to be as detailed as mine, but here are some of the talents I’ve noticed in myself as I start to see the world through these new definitions:

Striving - what initiates my actions

  • Growth - Growing myself as a person is one of the biggest things I find delicious about living, and it pushes me to do things that could increase my ability to grow.
  • Service - I have a strong desire/compulsion to improve the lives of those I know (at the least)
  • Ethics - My personal understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong” (aka integrity) pushes many of my actions.
  • Curiosity - I am willing to push through a lot of discomfort in order to explore and satiate my deep, almost frustratingly demanding, sensation of curiosity. It’s saved my life many times. (I think this could also be a thinking talent, but that for me, it’s most relevant to why I do things.)
  • Safety - I need safety and am driven to great lengths to ensure it for myself. Sometimes this is at odds with my curiosity drive.
  • Freedom - I have a deep need to be the one designing my life and what matters in it. When I can’t have this, I wither.
  • Exploration - One of the biggest reasons I continue to show up to my life is my drive to explore. The physical world, my internal landscape, and what it means to be a human. (this ties in with my drives for freedom and curiosity)

Thinking - how I interact with thought and metabolize striving

  • Vision - To work through how to do something, I need to use my imagination to create a vision of the future I want to push towards. If I can’t envision the end situation, it’s hard for me to feel like I can orient on something or work towards it. (This is listed as a Striving talent, but I’m listing it as a Thinking talent because for me vision isn’t why I do something it’s how I think through things. I could create visions about anything regardless of whether I care very much about it.)
  • Discipline - This is a Lex need to impose structure on life. Sometimes I get so carried away with structuring my own life that it’s unreasonable to follow and has no space for natural flow. However, it’s helpful when there’s no structure at all because I have a natural talent for whipping it up. I’m working on being okay with the structures I create being a stepping stone to the balanced solution (rather than the solution itself.)
  • Arranger - I deeply love orchestrating things and people. This is part of what makes me a great meeting host and an amazing small-event organizer.
  • Gestalt - Again, Lex has a deep need for order and accuracy. Complete disarray or inaccuracy is like hot needles to him (me).
  • Concept - I think this (in combination with Formulation and Problem Solving) may be one of the most useful talents in my SourceCred work thus far. I excel at creating a framework for understanding.
  • Problem Solving - While I absolutely abhor being put on the spot to reason out puzzles for which I have little understanding or not enough pieces, I am great at taking something I mostly understand and identifying where the missing pieces are and how we might resolve that. Maybe this isn’t Problem Solving, but it is a reflection I can make about myself which is the point of this.
  • Formulation - Another of my super useful to SourceCred talents that is almost fused with my Concept talent. I excel at taking disorganized information and seeing the patterns so I can create a useful framework.
  • Creativity - I have always been the kid who wants to do something different from everyone else and who has a deep need to question why we do things the way we do them. This can sometimes lead me to reinvent the wheel when it’s not really necessary, so I should be working on problems we can’t find solutions for after the research phase.
  • Wonder - this is solidly a Birdie talent. I have a deep belief that there is beauty in everything (this may even be a striving talent for me) and I am excellent at finding it.

Relating - how I connect with humans

  • Woo - This often feels like a weakness to me, but there’s no denying that I am deeply troubled when I know someone is upset with or doesn’t like me. I’m working to push on this talent when it gets in the way of my ability to hold my own boundaries or be honest with people I care about.
  • Empathy - One of my earliest known talents. My autism (and tbh my striving talent for safety) has helped me immensely to turn my sensitivity to humans into an understanding of their feelings and perspectives.
  • Relator - I think that Lex especially thrives in deep connection with others.
  • Multirelator - I think that Birdie especially has a great ability to connect with lots of people meaningfully without needing to go super deep.
  • Individualized Perception - I have a deep and unwavering fascination with what makes people unique.
  • Developer - Nothing much to be said here, I crave investing in those I know/care for and seeing them thrive.
  • Stimulator - This is a Birdie talent for sure, she’s (I’m) so good at bringing the joyful enthusiasm to others (sometimes as a defense mechanism tbh).
  • Team - I think we can all tell that I deeply desire networks of mutual support and understanding. That’s part of why I made our culture like it is.
  • Positivity - Again, Birdie. She (I) naturally sees and wants to share the positive. (That’s one reason we appreciate the informal partnership with Thena who keeps our positivity balanced with reality.)
  • Command - This is a Lex trait. While he (I) don’t have a need to be in charge, I’ll step in to help lead whenever I see a void I could fill with some competence. Once I have leadership though, it can be hard for me to let go of my vision for what I’m leading to someone else (I’m working on this as we move towards being more decentralized and intentional with our power structures/governance).
  • Connection - I have a natural talent for helping people feel connected to me and vice-versa through our interactions. This is what made me so good in the service industry, and why I gravitate towards a lot of 1:1 or synchronous interactions in Cultivation.

I’m going to jump in without perusing thoroughly both posts.

I would tentatively disagree that talents are what you’ve used… you may have addressed this in your second post. It seems to me that many talents are undiscovered. Your example of kinesthetic talent and desire and need to move as an expression of it really hit home. I had thought until I was a full grown adult that i was a visual learner. I listen better when I take notes or even draw while someone is talking. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I was really a kinesthetic learner, and the drawing and note taking was simply the only movement allowed in the restrictive system of teaching promulgated throughout schools. A great example of this is that I had trouble learning the Hebrew alphabet. Then I discovered The Chronicle Project. Using their system of meaning I quickly developed a body shape that reflected the meaning and mimicked the letter and learned the alphabet almost instantly at that point. Kinesthetic. It wasn’t until I was in my fifties (still am) that I realized I thrive on hours and hours of movement a day, that my mood and my thinking ability benefit as well as, clearly, my health. It seems to me that many people have been pushed into a box and their talents are undiscovered and even suppressed. What is exciting about the new DAOsphere is the space we are creating for people to discover these suppressed talents, become aware of their value, and bloom. Hopefully this adds something to the discourse.

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Yes! I’m so happy you learned that about yourself! I think that a deeper understanding of one’s own talent is a big thing I want to help other people (and myself) figure out.

I think this is probably so true. Now that I have this framework, I’m learning to separate out my talents from the ways other people have tried to describe me or fit me into their understanding. A lot of times I had mixed the definition of talent with skills/knowledge and in the end, beat myself up for not being able to learn new talents like I can learn new skills. I’m starting to see talent as the ways I have always, truly, existed. Those behaviors, feelings, or actions that I do instinctively (sometimes compulsively).

Here’s one way to see your story about learning Hebrew:

You thought you were a visual learner, but realized that you were a kinesthetic learner. Your talent for interpreting information through your body never changed, it was just your perception of it that changed. By gaining a better understanding of your talent, you were able to apply it more effectively. Your talent understood, you were suddenly able to gain the skill of reading Hebrew with greater speed and less frustration. You also gained experiential-knowledge about who you are and how you like to learn.

It sounds like you found out how to leverage your talent for kinesthetic learning to vastly improve your performance as a student. That’s incredible!

Feel free to push back on these thoughts if that doesn’t feel like the experience you had. I’m obsessed with this framework right now, so I keep trying to apply it to everything. :sweat_smile:

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I think an important bit, which needs emphasized, is that it was because I was teaching, riding students (very few… Alaska problems) and my own children, that I was more open minded evaluating learning styles, so that I was able to realize my learning style wasn’t what I had thought it was. Even the idea that I like art so I’m visual was flawed. I liked to do art, and the art I look at I feel as if I am doing it. Kinesthetic. If I hadn’t homeschooled my children I don’t know when I would have learned to learn. I feel things I see, right? Empath, but in a real tangible way reacting to things happening to other people… not picking up on other people’s feelings… I’m dense that way. We’ve learned so much about learning recently. Or accepted what people like Charlotte Mason for example have been trying to say more than a generation ago. Now I’m rambling. How children learn, how goats learn, how dogs learn, how horses learn… these have been important to me. Horses are the easiest because I can walk away and they’re so simple. Goats we exploit more intimately, and they’re brilliant, so the challenges are different (unless you’re Mongolian I suppose, in which case the explotation is similar). Dogs and children are in the house. It’s a different dynamic. I may be way off track. I feel very exposed when I talk about this.

Skinner did us all wrong with the pigeons and ping pong. Operant conditioning doesn’t generate a spirit of friendly cooperation. How results are evaluated… that’s a thing. Sure the pigeons hit the ball with a paddle, but did they want to do that? Did they enjoy it? Did they generate value for themselves in any way?

I’ve seen horses that reach for the bit because they want to do the work they’re being requested. Fighting being bridled or saddled is more than that direct issue. There’s an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Yes there are horses that enjoy being ridden, enjoy being stretched physically and mentally, who groove on improving communication.

And now I’m really rambling.

So I’ll stop.