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The value of talent (above the value of experience)

Richard de Jongh

Talent takes precedence over experience. That makes sense, talent is more important than experience, of course. However, in most cases, clients still prefer experience when searching for high performing executives. They’ll say: “talent is frolic, it behaves playfully and uninhibitedly; talent is like a raw diamond. Experience is like a rock. It is reliable. I prefer someone with experience.”

I fundamentally disagree.

People think they play it safe when prioritizing experience over talent. However, safety is not only provided by experience; management or a board of directors should find safety by searching for a candidate’s potential to grow. That is the essence of talent. Those who possess it have an inner drive to always aim higher.

I’d say: talent should be the minimum requirement when performing at a high level. By this, I mean a special aptitude, a natural giftedness that not everyone possesses. We, as scouts, encounter leaders every day who’ve been selected purely based on their experience and do not perform particularly brilliantly in a new position. These executives remain at a mediocre level. Yet, when we look at leaders who truly excel, we always find tremendously talented people. They are the real bright leaders.

Supervisory board positions are appointed almost exclusively on the basis of experience (and yes, these days, on diversity too). You almost never get asked to be a commissioner without any experience as a commissioner, no matter how much talent you have. That’s incredible, isn’t it?

Having a mix of talent and experience in a company’s management team is very important. There should be eager beavers as well as old hands in the trade, so that the latter stay sharp, feel challenged and therefore continue to take pleasure in their work. At the highest positions in a company, it is better to be stimulated or even threatened than to be surrounded by huggers. That does not help a company to move forward.

In the world’s best soccer teams there are more and more 18- and 19-year-olds playing alongside soccer players in their 30s. Those young guys obviously don’t have the international experience of their older peers yet, but they participate fully. They can determine the outcome of a match. On what basis? Based on their talent.

There are teams in modern soccer that only consist of big names, stars who have seen it all. These teams are created by gathering the most successful and expensive players. Club management has mainly scouted for track records. At critical moments, those highly paid players fall short. Why does their team not reach the final? Because the veterans no longer inspire each other. They are no longer challenged by the Sturm und Drang of emerging talent. In addition to renowned names, those top teams should have super talented and inspired young soccer players who compete with tons of passion. But they played it safe, which turns out to be a false sense of security.

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