The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else by George Anders (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011) is an exceptional book on talent. In trying to find a way to capture the essence of the book I decided that it would be easier if I just provided an edited version of the final chapter as an inspiration for you to buy the book for yourself.
So here it is.
The experts interviewed and profiled in Rare Find almost all agree on the same three principles that are essential to finding exceptional talent.
Principle #1 - Widen Your View of Talent
- Compromise on experience; don't compromise on character.
The best assessors in any field look at people differently. Once some basic level of competency has been established, the key question stops being ‘What can you do for us today?' Instead, it becomes ‘What might you be able to do for us years from now?'
Each organisation that harnesses its talent better than its competitors has a unique sense of which character values are essential. Such self-awareness can provide a big edge in sizing up candidates whose track records, to date, look like a weird mix of promise and pitfalls.
The more you know about your core values, the easier it will be to shrug off flaws that don't really matter - and to make the most of virtues that your competitors don't understand. Such people won't succeed everywhere. But, if you know your own values well, you will be able to spot the ones who can succeed with you.
- Seek out 'talent that whispers'.
The world is full of overlooked people, shunned for reason of geography, status or background. Take time, every now and then, to ask what pools or people you aren't seeing, but should be. It may feel safer to stick with the pack, but scouting the same way that everyone else does, amounts to paying a huge ‘conformity tax'.
- On the fringes of talent ask ‘what can go right?'
Being willing to see people's potential is especially important in smaller, scrappier organizations. If you can't outspend your bigger competitors, it's all the more important to outsmart them. Spotting promise is the great equalizer.
- Take tiny chances - so you can take more of them.
If you want to explore the long tail of talent, find ways to minimise the costs, distractions, and emotional fatigue associated with frequent mismatches. That way, you can take your boldest risks with your smallest dollars. Your prospecting can pay off even when yields seem meager. The little-known executives, like those who bet on singer, Taylor Swift or author J.K. Rowling, succeed by taking small chances before it's fully clear how a newcomer will fare.
Principle #2 - Find Inspirations That Are Hidden In Plain Sight
- Draw out the ‘hidden truths' of each job.
It's unnerving how many talent hunts go astray because no one ever makes a brave, clearheaded call about what the job really requires. Too many companies are in too much of a hurry to get started with the drama of screening candidates, without ever fully knowing what the hunt is all about.
Slow down. Take stock of the hidden virtues that define success for your particular situations. Your results will be vastly better.
- Rely on auditions to see how and why people achieve the results that they do.
With a well run audition, it is possible to see right away who possesses the right stuff. To learn the most from an audition, pay attention to more than the absolute calibre of the performance. Concentrate hardest on what you can learn about the candidate's character. Auditions provide a rare chance to see how a candidate achieves his or her results, not just what gets done.
- Master the art of aggressive listening.
When you are an aggressive listener, you interview candidates differently. Once you get past the initial pleasantries, you don't ramble or try to make friends. You stay focused and intensely interested, but not in a ‘chummy' way. Zero in on the issues that matter most to you, which usually relate to the candidate's core character. Ask a lot of follow up questions. Keep digging. Your best queries may be as basic as ‘why?' or ‘What happened next?'
In the course of getting to know a candidate, don't settle for well-rehearsed stories. Look for ways to pull back the curtain on candidates' aspirations, frustrations and lifelong habits, both good and bad.
Principle #3 - Simplify Your Search for Talent
- Be willing to pick one trait that matters more than anything.
Often the ability to recover from setbacks is what separates people who surpass expectations from those who disappoint. Yet our societal attitudes toward resilience are as tangled as can be. When periods of crisis are long past, we celebrate resilience. Yet when life is playing out in real time, there's no room for even a whisper of anxiety about setbacks along the way.
American societal norms call for job candidates to tell a story of uninterrupted success. Previous experiences are burnished until they sound like triumphs. Traditional resumes are set up so that resilience becomes invisible. That's a horribly unfortunate distortion.
At some point fate slams us to the ground. What happens next determines who we become. The more you can learn about how people handle adversity, they more astutely you can judge them.
- Insist on the right talent.
The more prominent a talent hunt may be, the easier it is for hiring managers to lose track of what they really want. Candidates' prestige, social affinity and other factors become huge distractions. It's easy to end up with some-one who is spectacular, but also spectacularly wrong for the job. Hiring managers focus on what's easy or gratifying to evaluate, not what is important. Only afterward it is clear how much got overlooked in the stampede to make a decision that looked good.
- Push your best candidates to grow even stronger.
If top performers don't feel tied into the organization that hires them, all their marvelous potential may be useless. Top talent wants to be challenged not coddled. These racehorse personalities are driven by such an intense desire to make their mark in the world that it surpasses every other motivator.
Play to that reality. Set audacious goals and run the hardest auditions. Develop legends within your organization that become models of how the most gifted achievers should carry themselves. Portray hardship and possible failure as selling points for your jobs, rather than as liabilities.
Middle-of-the-pack candidates won't want any part of this, but for exceptionally talented souls, such heroic quests are thrilling and addictive. Winners will push themselves remarkably hard to stay on top. Candidates' potential for growth won't be a mystery anymore.
The above examples used from this book provide concrete evidence that these principles work. I recommend you buy and read this book to fully absorb the simple, yet profound truths discovered about hiring the very best people for the jobs they are best suited to.