Tag Archives: talent

Cowlishaw Compares NBA and College Basketball

I listen to Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw and Matt Mosley every afternoon on 103.3 (KESN-FM) in Dallas.  Today his column was about the superiority of the NBA over the college game.  I wrote him and responded.  I said: 


“I think the frustrating thing to me about the NBA is that the bandwidth of talent is too compressed. All the players are “great to superstar” status. And, there is great similarity in size, background, experience, etc.  In the college game, the bandwidth is broader, so you have room for walk-ons, smaller guys, and lesser-talented players who still find a way to get the job done. They are “average to superstar” status. Remember SMU brought in three football players to round out the roster late this season. Haven’t seen an NFL player on the NBA court for awhile (LOL), although I do remember Dave DeBusschere played baseball and in the NBA. Michael Jordan wasn’t so lucky. As a result, the college game is less predictable, adding more suspense, drama, and excitement.  It’s really not about bands, cheerleaders, etc. I would watch Kansas vs. Purdue before I would watch the Mavericks vs. the Spurs.”
He replied from his iPhone:
“Thanks you make very valid points. And if I had more space , I do have issues with the NBA as well.”

“Don’t Be So Stupid, Stupid” – A Reminder For Those Seeking Talent

Bumblers keep creating crises that didn’t need to happen.
George Anders, The Rare Find:  Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else


Have you ever done anything stupid?  OK – maybe you haven’t.  But I have.  And, I suspect, if your answer is not “yes,” then you are either a liar, or you’ve got a pretty unrealistic view of your own life history.

I think that one way to describe the challenge of life is this:  quit being so stupid!

As I read The Rare Find, my mind drifted back to an idea I read from Neil Postman.  (Postman is probably best known for his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death).  In his essay The  Educationist as Painkiller, he ponders the purpose of education.  And his conclusion, simply, is that education can’t make a person smart — but it can keep a person from being so stupid.  (The essay is available in pdf format here).

Neil Postman

Here are a few quotes from Postman’s essay:

This is the strategy I propose for educationists—that we abandon our vague, seemingly arrogant, and ultimately futile attempts to make children intelligent, and concentrate our attention on helping them avoid being stupid.
The educationist should become an expert in stupidity and be able to prescribe specific procedures for avoiding it…
…everyone practices stupidity, including those who write about it; none of us is ever free of it, and we are most seriously endangered when we think we are safe. That there is an almost infinite supply of stupidity, including our own, should provide educationists with a sense of humility and, incidentally, assurance that they will never become obsolete.
stupidity is reducible…
Stupidity is a form of behavior. It is not something we have; it is something we do.

So, why did I think of this essay as I read The Rare Find?  Partly because of this:  after massive amounts of money spent developing processes for finding and hiring the right people, every book and article I read seems to say that we have not gotten very good at it.  And that includes hiring all up and down the organizational ladder.  (As I write this, RIM {BlackBerry} just replaced its two CEOs with a new “savior.”)   And the statistics pretty much prove this.  Here’s a brief summary from Anders’ book:

In 2010:  only 18% of HR Managers say they are “winning the war for talent.”  All the rest stated they were either “losing ground” or “stuck” with a process that was not successful in identifying exceptional talent.

So, we make stupid hires; and then those people hired do stupid things.  Avoiding such stupidity would be a great, massive step forward, and save a boatload of money and a whole lot of anxiety and despair.  And as the quote at the top of this post affirms,

Bumblers keep creating crises that didn’t need to happen.

The Rare Find provides one remedy:  part of this stupidity is that we trust our “gut” way too often, when our minds, if we could simply focus them, would scream out some much needed warnings.  The Rare Find describes just how hard it is to actually listen to a job candidate, to actually look at work and life history, and then to avoid being “wowed” by the pizazz of a person’s personality.

In other words, if we could focus our minds, we might not make such stupid decisions – in hiring, and in our own life, at work, and everywhere else.

Maybe “don’t be stupid, stupid” should be our mantra…

The War for Talent – The War for Jobs

Here’s what prompted these thoughts. The Texas Rangers lost game one of the World Series last night, and for those of us who like the Rangers, we hope to rebound quickly.  But, as I watched, I pulled out my iPad and starting reading about the Cardinals‘ manager, Tony La Russa.  The third winningest manager in baseball history.  (#2, like Tony, had a law degree.  Isn’t that interesting?)  He has won 2 World Series, one in each league, as well as manager of the year 4 times, again in both leagues.  He is, what we might call, a very serious, valuable piece of talent.  He doesn’t have a very long list of true peers.

So, I started thinking about talent.  Here’s what we know.  There’s not enough good talent to go around.  Good, valuable, long-lasting skills are incredibly important.  And even as we read and hear about the unemployment rate, we also read about the jobs that can’t be filled, for lack of specific talent.

“A players.” That’s what every organization seeks…  Jim Collins famously wrote that we need to get the right people on the bus. (And we need to make sure the bus is the right bus, going to the right location).  Finding the right people is hard work, but very important work.

Talent is shorthand for a key employee who possesses “a sharp strategic mind, leadership ability, communications skills, the ability to attract and inspire people, entrepreneurial instincts, functional skills, and the ability to deliver results.” It’s also an overarching personnel characteristic that organizations of all kinds will require…
The better the talent, the higher the performance.
(The War for Talent).

The War for Talent…  The Coming Jobs War.  The first phrase is the title of a 2001 book (which I presented at the December, 2001 First Friday Book Synopsis).  The second, the title of a just-released 2011 book. (I’ve only read the first of the two).

Just a few years ago, there were seemingly more jobs than needed to go around, and  companies were in a bidding war for the best talent.  Now, there are more job seekers than jobs available.  I know a bunch of folks – a bunch! of folks – who are now “independent contractors,” because their companies shut down their departments.  “Talented” people!  Some of them are successful, some still struggle.  But plenty of them remember the “good old days,” when work was sure and benefits came along as part of the package.  It is this loss of benefits, especially health care packages, that seems to have serious ripple effects, and do more than just a little to create uncertainty and unease.  (Not to mention some actual, serious physical problems.  When health problems are ignored, and treatments delayed, far more serious problems follow along).

Here’s the Amazon info about the more recent jobs book, The Coming Jobs War:  What Every Leader Must Know About the Future of Job Creation, written by Jim Clifton, Chairman of Gallup:

Drawing on 75 years of Gallup studies and his own perspective as the company’s chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton explains why jobs are the new global currency for leaders. More than peace or money or any other good, the business, government, military, city, and village leaders who can create good jobs will own the future. 
The problem is that leaders don’t know how to create jobs – especially in America. What they should do is recognize that the world is in a war for jobs.

I think this really does need to be agenda item #1. We have cut and slashed and cut some more so many jobs that uncertainty permeates the land.  And people without jobs, and people insecure in their current jobs, discouraged people, lose a little  (sometimes more than a little) of their self-confidence.  It’s time to help a nation get its self-confidence back.

I’ve put The Coming War for Jobs in my reading queue.  I have been writing for quite a while on this theme:  Where Will The Jobs Be?  I hope we find some answers, sooner rather than later…

Who Do You Need To Get Rid Of? – The Hard Work Of Executive Team Leadership

I recently had lunch with a top-notch business consultant – you know, the kind who has the ability to listen well, diagnose really well, and then prescribe the next steps for the company to go forward.

Like many such good consultants, he meets with the executive team, in a series of sessions, helping them come up with the best way forward.  In the midst of our conversation, he said this:

“Every time I take a company through the steps of the process, somebody has to leave.” 

Whoa… that was enough to get my attention.  But, it should not come as a surprise.  Getting the right people, and the right mix of people, on the team is beyond critical.  Get this right, and many future possibilities become even more possible.  Get this wrong, and the whole enterprise is in jeopardy.

Oh, and by the way, the right team today, made up of the same people tomorrow, may no longer be the right team tomorrow.  Each team member has to keep growing, developing, stretching, to ensure that tomorrow’s team is as healthy as today’s team.  Today’s critically important person may turn into tomorrow’s downfall.  So, this process is constant, and ongoing.

You’ve read the books, and they all say the same thing.  “Get the right people on the bus…,” and all that.

But making a change with such a key person on the top team – “getting rid of someone” —  can be excruciatingly painful, and difficult.  (But, keeping that person who is simply no longer right for this team, now, can be every bit as painful and difficult – maybe more so).

Or, in other words, leadership requires some tough, difficult decisions.  That’s why good leaders are so rare.

So – back to the title of this article:  “Who do you need to get rid of?”


And, here’s a bothersome footnote.  Say you are the ”top leader” of the team.  What if you are the person you need to get rid of?  What then?

Here’s my answer – call me, and I’ll give you the name of a really good, gutsy business consultant.  He’s dealt with this a time or two…

About those “Right People on the Bus” – Thoughts on Talent, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Triumph of the “Lesser Names”

As a choreographer, my task is to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day.

Twyla Tharp, The Collaborative HabitLife Lessons for Working Together


It’s a broken record.  Everybody knows it.  If you have the wrong people in your organization, on your team, you are in trouble.  You will not accomplish your goals.  You will not take your organization to the next level.  And I’ve read the books; I’ve quoted the findings, the recommendations.  They all make sense.

Getting the right talent is everything.  “Do you have the right people on the bus?” goes the mantra-like question.


Well, let me put it simply – until you get the perfect person to fill that all-important seat on your bus, that all-important slot on your team, there is a better, more realistic solution, and Twyla Tharp gives us the insight:

my task is to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day. 

Twyla Tharp has worked with the very best (Billy Joel and his music; the music of Frank Sinatra; the dancing of Mikhail Baryshnikov, and a plethora of others), but she also has worked with many, many dancers who may not reach such heights in the reputation, or talent, department that these superstars represent.  So, what does she do?  She still churns out terrific work, because she views her task as this:

to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day. 

Consider the lowly, seemingly lesser names of the Dallas Mavericks.  OK, Dirk Nowitzki is a “superstar,” but his surrounding cast, the other members of the team? – Coach Rick Carlisle simply made the best possible work with the dancers he found in the room on this given day (in this season).  And, lo and behold, they rose to the occasion, and they won it all.  And, by the way, those lesser names – JET (Jason Terry), J. J. Barea, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, the practically ancient Jason Kidd, and the entire team– they’re not so lesser anymore!

So, fantasize about that perfect team all you want to (while your team fantasizes about that perfect team leader!).  But take a look around you.  There are people with talent – great untapped talent – ready to go to work.  Work with these people.  They are the ones in the room on this given day.  Work with them to do the best this group can do on this day.

Yes, it might be hard work to make this happen.  “The best possible work” is never easy.  But, give it your best shot with the people on your team now.

You might be surprised!