September 8, 2008

Felix Dennis on talent..

Anybody wishing to become rich cannot do so without talent. Either their own, or far more likely, on the back of the talent of others. Talent is indispensable, although it is *always* replaceable.

If the talent is trying to make itself irreplaceable – like say, only one person knows how something works and they do not like documenting it or training others. It shows insecurity of the person who does not want to lose the job, which is bad for the organization as well as for the person.

Bad for the organization because, if the person either wants to quit or cannot turn up for work, a crucial piece of work cannot be completed.

Bad for the person because, though the person might think he/she is crucial for something work and cannot be fired, they are making themselves tied up to the work and hence cannot be promoted to better opportunities.

A talent should learn and grow. And then to teach others and make them grow. And keep repeating the process. If there is not much you can learn to grow, then quit and join some place where you can.

Just remember the simple rules concerning talent: identify it, hire it, nurture it, reward it, protect it. And, when the time comes, fire it.
Youth is a factor. By the time talent is in its mid-to-late forties or early fifties, it will have become very, very expensive. Young talent can be found and underpaid for a short while, providing the work is challenging enough. Then it will be paid at the market rate. Finally, it will reach a stage where it is being paid based on past reputation alone. That is when you must part company with it.

Some companies find even more innovative ways to tap the energy of youth. If you can find younger talent (like, just out of high school) who cannot afford college education and spend money to train them in essential theory and practical work requirements (like it is done in vocational schools), you have a lot more time to extract labor out of the youth. Of course, such a talent will initially be paid slightly less (since the company has to spend money to train them), but they would be happy anyway, because they would not have got the opportunity to earn even this much, had they followed their own paths. It is a win-win situation, at least in the short term. Longer term, the talent needs to keep acquiring relevant skills and if required, some certifications, to improve their careers.

The French impressionist Degas once said: “Everybody has talent at twenty-five. The difficult thing is to have it at fifty”. True enough. Most talent does not survive undiminished through its middle forties, although there are some stunning exceptions to this rule of thumb.

Actually talent does not diminish as much as Felix/Degas portrays. Experience counts. But in the IT field, fresher talent is relatively a lot cheaper and one does not need to retain many costly, experienced people. Just a few would suffice to guide fresher, cheaper talent which has better stamina, an urge to learn new stuff, working like crazy to move up in career.

Most older talent prefer to stay in the comfortable zone, to lead a contented life. To keep earning the same salary with small raises every now and then (mostly the salary is just adjusted for inflation – it is not actually a raise). These kind of people are more likely to be less innovative.

As organizations grow very large and at some point stabilizes the employee count at some level, there is a high possibility that most of their employees get into this mode. My guess is that the average age of IBM employees > average age of Microsoft employees > average age of Google employees.

Not all talent enters the comfort zone as it ages, but most do.

Talent is usually conscious of its own value. But the currency of that value is not necessarily a million-dollar salary. The opportunity to prove themselves, and sometimes the chance to run the show on a day-to-day basis, will often do the trick just as well.

Yes, until a point. After which the talent either..

* falls into the comfort mode (very bad) or
* jumps ship for a better salary (and of course with better opportunities to prove themselves and to run the show) (very good) or
* dares to build a ship on its own. (crazy !!)

Just in case you do not already know: I am crazy. 🙂

Ship building commences on Oct 1, 2008.

(The quotes are from Felix Dennis’ book How to Get Rich: One of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets)