It’s always difficult to rate books on human resource problems. For one, there is no simple solution and, second, no one seems to be right. It’s a chicken-egg argument and you can keep arguing the other side till you tire. While I have found companies and proponents of HR practice now relying more on data, there is a huge class of people who still go by intuition. Nothing describes this conundrum better than the 2011 Hollywood flick, Moneyball. There are other lessons as well from the movie, which is based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction work of the same name, describing the 2002 season of the baseball team Oakland Athletics under their manager Billy Beane. Look closely, and you will find the HR conundrum. Beane tries to build a team using statistics and data, and the team goes on to create records. But when the team fails to win the championship, you see people questioning the tactics, saying the game can’t be played sans intuition. Beane is not the only one struggling with this conundrum. Over the years, it’s been faced by HR professionals and companies trying to recruit talent as well.
Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a well-known authority on psychological profiling, talent management and people analytics, in his book, The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential, tries to deconstruct the phenomenon of talent perception. As the name would suggest, you would have guessed where most of Chamorro-Premuzic’s arguments lie. Although the heading gives it all, Chamorro-Premuzic still has his ways to keep the reader engaged. He slowly builds his argument, starting with why the talent-finding brigade needs an introspection, then goes on to define talent, measuring, engaging and finally putting it all into context for the future.
The defining moments are his dispositions about happiness, the delusions towards talent, which, he believes, has led to a war on talent, rather than a war for it. You can’t miss the Lionel Messi references and the reverence towards the Barcelona Football Club in citing and developing Messi, something that Argentina hasn’t been able to do. Then there are solutions and problems stated in sets of four throughout the book. There are some good insights into the blind spot bias and how society and HR practices are largely to blame for the delusional deluge.
Chamorro-Premuzic believes that the culture of boasting is what has led to companies mis-assessing talent, and an individual’s search for uniqueness has fuelled it. The author also goes into how psychometric evaluations and scientific tools can deconstruct this phenomenon and help companies differentiate those with or without talent. The book goes on to describe the balances and checks that can help HR attract the best talent and also emphasises the role of happiness in work culture. Chamorro-Premuzic goes completely against the idea of happiness at work and believes it to be just another volley in the delusion being built around people.
Although the arguments are all valid, and Chamorro-Premuzic keeps you interested throughout the book with quotes and references, and, of course, data, he commits the same mistake that he says most intellectuals do. In the book, you have a barrage of psychological terminologies being used to drown the idea. Though Chamorro-Premuzic tries to simplify notions, it still becomes difficult for a lay person to understand the dynamics. For people in the HR industry, though, the book can certainly be a conversation-starter. If you are reading it to find out whether you are deluded or not, the book doesn’t offer much.
Chamorro-Premuzic is spot on in defining what talent means. However, he falters in describing success. So there is an insight into why businesses fail, but no news on how they succeed. More importantly, there is no role of schools and universities or how partnerships and teams can overcome the talent gaps that exist in strategies. Chamorro-Premuzic goes silent on Messi’s success as well, something that you would not expect. Taking his football analogy, a large part of Barcelona’s success is also attributed to the players it has had, while Argentina has not had similar talent.
I support his hypothesis that science needs to be considered, but it could have been done in a much simpler manner. Reading through the book in one go is tiring, and if you are lazy, I would suggest you just go through the last chapter, Final Thoughts. Nevertheless, Chamorro-Premuzic gets you interested in the science of talent and it will certainly become a topic of discussion amongst people in the HR industry, if not the common man.