Monday, November 22, 2010

Hard to Imagine Talent

My youngest daughter had her fifth birthday a couple of weeks ago. We celebrated at the local pony club, where she and several friends from Kindergarten rode miniature ponies around in a circle for about an hour, followed by pizza and cake.

A former equestrian myself, I was proud to note my older daughter’s straight back and general competence on a horse. Later that night I remarked to my husband that we should enroll her in a riding class.

His response: ‘No way. What a completely useless skill!’

I bristled a bit at this. I rode horses competitively for seven years growing up, two of them on the school rodeo team, and while I don’t exactly use those skills today they are part of who I am.

‘Oh, yeah?’ I retorted. ‘If I’d married a Texan rancher instead of you I bet he wouldn’t say that to me!’

My husband stared at me blankly. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You know I used to ride on a rodeo team in school,’ I responded icily.

I knew he knew because he’d laughed heartily at my tales of lining up to tie the understandably depressed school goat. I can still hear its plaintive ‘baaaaah’ each time it got flipped to the ground.

‘Oh, right.’ He still looked confused.

I sighed. This is the man who didn’t realize I could swim until we’d been married for about six years because he thinks an icy cold lake is perfect for a ‘refreshing dip.’

‘Rodeo’s no cake walk, you know,’ I said sternly. ‘You have to keep your seat, pay attention to your posture, keep your ride in check, and often as not you have to rope a running cow or something from the back of a galloping horse. It’s a real skill.’

He stared at me thoughtfully, presumably trying to picture the woman he married on the back of a racing horse whirling a lasso in the air and yelling, ‘Haaaaw!’

He seemed to be looking for the right words. Finally he settled on, ‘I find that hard to imagine.’

By now you're probably wondering what my point is, beyond letting the world know I know more about cows and horses than one might assume meeting me for the first time.

My point is that people have histories, skills and experience beyond what you hired them to do. Many of these skills may be completely useless but others could be exactly what you need for a particular project or job.

For example, if you're looking for a project manager you might try asking if anyone on your team knows how to herd cows. Trust me, it's a transferrable skill.

One of the best ways to motivate people is to look beyond the tasks they perform for you today and consider how they can develop and integrate other skills going forward. Everybody wins.

All you need is a way for people to track their skills, experience and interests and the ability to search against this information when trying to fill a new job or staff a project.

It's just basic talent profiling.

Are you mining the ‘hard to imagine’ talent in your organization?


  1. I am jealous -- I always wanted to learn to ride. My dad was a Wyoming native and was practically born on a horse, but all I got growing up was the southern California suburban experience. My hidden experience from the past is -- being a dancing snowman at Disneyland. Not quite so impressive as the rodeo! So tell me -- how can I paint dancing-snowman experience as part of my talent profiling?

  2. LOL - I'm afraid dancing snowman doesn't qualify as relevant business experience. Sorry, Evil Skippy, you should have held out for rodeo, which is the ultimate business skill.


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