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The Doctor and The Portability of Talent

Posted by Steve Hughes on March 15, 2011

This weekend the 2011 MotoGP season begins in Qatar and the most fascinating aspect of the racing year for me will be how well Valentino Rossi performs with his new team Ducati. Rossi,  nicknamed “The Doctor” as a mark of respect, is arguably the greatest of all time. He has won nine grand prix world championships, a record seven in the premier class. Rossi won the 500cc World Championship in 2001 and the MotoGP Championships in 2002 and 2003 with Honda. Some commentators suggested that the Honda motorcycle’s superior technology, rather than his talent, was the key factor in his success. Rossi switched to Yamaha, won the opening race of the 2004 season and the championship. Another back to back championship followed in 2005 and he repeated the feat in 2008 and 2009. No one doubts his genius when it comes to riding a motorcycle.

Given his success at Honda and Yamaha, does Valentino Rossi stand in contradiction to the central finding in Boris Groysberg’s fascinating book  “Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance” (summarized in an excellent article by Chip & Dan Heath )? Groysberg’s study of the portability of the talents of Wall Street research analysts  argues that outstanding individual performance is far more context-dependent than it appears to star performers themselves. In short, the talents of stars are less portable than they think they are, and when they move their performance declines. The reason this happens is that there are crucial “in firm” networks and resources that contribute to the analysts success, but that they don’t necessarily appreciate.

Does The Doctor have perfectly portable talent? Not quite. Whilst Rossi has moved from Honda to Yamaha to Ducati, so has his supremely talented and experienced team. Crew chief Jeremy Burgess has worked with Rossi since he joined Honda, as has mechanic Alex Briggs. Mechanics Bernard Ansiau, Brenth Stephens and Track Engineer Matteo Flamigni also moved to Ducati. Why would the team move? Groysberg gives a comprehensive explanation but Alex Briggs has put it quite succinctly – “… the reason I enjoy my job and laugh every day is because of the close group of people I work with. JB, Gaz, Bernie, Brent & Matteo. I left Honda with most of the guys for Yamaha & will head to Ducati with them to finish the story Valentino started with us in 2000.”

Confirmation that a further observation Groysberg makes regarding star analysts probably holds true for MotoGP stars  – those who change firms along with teammates experience no decline in either short or long term performance. The team clearly has a powerful cohesiveness and loyalty to The Doctor that enables them to all achieve great job satisfaction and success. Something that if he had moved alone Rossi would need to replicate, and would adversely affect his performance.

For their part Ducati provide the third key “in firm” resource for winning – a competitive motorcycle. Or, to put it another way, the technology for winning. Technology is crucial for modern racing motorcycles and this year’s Desmosedici GP11 is brimming with it – carbon fibre chassis, slipper clutch, fly by wire throttle, sophisticated traction control. And it is red. Rossi will be relying on Ducati to outpace the season long technological innovations that will be made to the Honda RC212V and Yamaha YZR-M1 machines.

Perhaps, then, The Doctor’s real genius was the early recognition that his talents alone are not enough to sustain consistent, career long  high performance. Outstanding teamwork and technology are also required in the right blend. Can he, his team and Ducati achieve the synergy that will enable him to win in 2011?

Time will tell.

Photo – MotoGP.com

Posted in performance, talentedapps | Leave a Comment »

Celebrating Mothers Day and giving back

Posted by Angela Doyle on May 24, 2010

I have just got home from celebrating Mothers Day in a special way.  I’ve been undertaking conservation volunteering at a local urban bushcare site in Sydney.  As I was walking to the site this morning  I suddenly realized what a great gift and privilege it was not just to send love to my own Mother, Grandmothers and Mothers of the world (both alive and deceased) but to be able to give back to Mother Earth who continually provides for us all.  I’ve been volunteering at this particular site for nearly one and half years and work with an extremely wise and knowledgeable supervisor who gives of his own time, unpaid, to create a wonderful place for the local community and a vital oasis in the local urban area for plants and wildlife.

I’ve had the wonderful fortune of being able to undertake volunteering both as a personal interest but also within the corporate setting as I’ve travelled for work over the past twelve months.  I’ve had many memorable experiences ranging from conservation and organic farming projects in Australia, UK, Iceland and California, packaging food for the poor in Oakland, Northern California;   to attending schools for under privileged and HIV positive children in India.

A common thread that I observe coming through in all these experiences is that as volunteers we are able to fulfil an innate need that we all have to give back to others and to feel that we have a purpose and are able to make a positive contribution.  In volunteering we give back with no expectation of material gain and this is in itself is very uplifting.  Through participating we do something for others and we look outside of ourselves.

In the corporate context volunteering provides an opportunity for team members to step out of their normal job function and to pursue new skills and roles.  It is also a chance for us to learn about our teams and peers in a different way outside of the usual hierarchy at work.  Personally I’ve discovered many wonderful things about work colleagues when I’ve seen them operating in a volunteer context.  Knowing these things has changed the way that we now interact in a work setting.

I also find that participating in volunteering gives many valuable lessons on leadership and interacting in a group context.  For example observing:  how the leader interacts with volunteers and motivates them to engage in the project;  the approach the leader might take to responding to obstacles or signficiant challenges;  ways that are taken to impart knowledge and wisdom to the broader community;  the communication  style of the leader and other volunteers;  the leader and team’s commitment to making a difference;  and humility as there is so much that we don’t know and once you start volunteering you start to have a little appreciation of this.

I find that all the learnings that I gain through the volunteering can in turn be taken back to enrich other parts of my personal and professional life.

Posted in leadership, passion, social network, talentedapps, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Be Careful with Averages (Especially with Compensation)

Posted by Alex Drexel on March 17, 2010

The Department of Labor put together this chart that compares the average amount spent on compensation and benefits between private and public sector employees.  At first glance, you might think that those interested in high paying jobs should look to public sector employment, or that public sector employees are overpaid.  However, drawing such conclusions from a simple average is premature.  In this case, the problem is that we aren’t looking at pay for the “average employee” across these two dimensions; we’re looking at averages calculated from entire groups of very diverse people.  Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts breaks these numbers down into a distribution of earnings in an effort to discredit initial interpretations of these averages, and to come up with some meaningful takeaways from the data.   

Comp is much more polarized in the private sector, where private sector employees are over-represented in lower and higher income brackets, while most public sector employees fall in the middle ranges.  43% of private sector workers earned less than $25k per year and more of them are part time (26%).  More public sector employees are college educated (45% of public sector workers have a college degree v.s. 29% of private sector workers).  The data suggests that employees performing similar jobs in the upper end are paid significantly more in the private sector than they are in the public sector.  And if you’ve got a lower skilled job, then it’s probably better for you to work for your local municipality.

Averages often offer poor and sometimes misleading insight when it comes to compensation reporting.  Too much is lost when data is aggregated.  The fact that the average salary for a US subsidiary is lower than a Mexican one may or may not be a problem; if they are the same, it may or may not be a problem; or, a problem may exist when the average salary in the US is higher than it is in Mexico.  Then you ask yourself, who cares about salary averages broken out by country, or business unit, etc..  I see too many compensation reports that just offer these higher end aggregates and don’t allow someone to look deeper into the numbers to draw meaning.  If you’re going to show an average, then be sure to allow someone to cut that average across multiple dimensions to get to some level of granularity; otherwise, an average is just a tease.

Posted in analytics, Compensation, talentedapps | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

TalentedApps Turns Two!

Posted by Mark Bennett on November 12, 2009

blogphoto8It’s been two years today since Meg, Mark, and Amy began this blog. While the first year was about us finding our voice and building up our readership, this second year has been a bit more about us drilling deeper into the areas that we see as key in organizations achieving strategic impact from their talent.

This second year also found us building relationships with the rest of the HR, Talent, and Enterprise blogging community. That has been personally rewarding for each of us as well as a terrific way to help get our thinking to a broader audience. We are honored to be part of such an incredibly gifted group of contributors committed to the improvement of this craft.

Our mission continues to be to help create change by improving the awareness and knowledge of our community, in an entertaining and informative way, of how to better achieve your goals through talent. Our thanks go out to our readership, friends, colleagues, and family for their support. We look forward to the upcoming years working together on this mission.

Graphic by Vivian Wong

Posted in anniversary, talentedapps, Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Cinderella Story

Posted by Mark Bennett on March 9, 2009

Carl Spackler: Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greens keeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!

Thank you to everyone who supported TalentedApps in the first round of the Fistful of Talent March Madness Talent Management Blog Power Rankings. We won a decided victory with your help and have advanced to the Sweet16!

Round 2 is even more competitive. Voting is until 12 noon EDT on Wednesday. To vote, please click this link and go to the bottom of the blog post for the Orange Quibblo voting box.

Amybeth, from Fistful of Talent, made several perceptive observations on the first round, invoking American Idol’s “song choice” factor (that is, you can have a great voice, but you also need to pick the right song that shows off that voice.) She also invoked Carl Spackler, referring to TalentedApps as a “Cinderella Team.” So, help make our dream come true!

Again, thank you for your support from the TalentedApps team.

Posted in Cinderella, talentedapps | 2 Comments »

Some Great Books from 2008

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 31, 2008

1225274637_85fac883b1_mHere are ten books that are very good and if you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out. The list is restricted to books published in 2008 that I read (there are several others published in 2008 that I have on my reading list). The list is somewhat in order of recommendation, although since the topics vary, you should let that be your main deciding factor.


Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li


Excellent survey of what’s been going on in Social Media, both in between companies and consumers as well as between companies and employees. It presents some good frameworks for structuring your thinking about how to best approach social media and has lots of real world examples.


Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin


This is a small, but thought-provoking book with some fresh thinking covering the well-worn topic of leadership. It focuses on how we can all be leaders and it’s whether we are willing to step up and create change, as there are people everywhere, more accessible than ever, willing to follow.


Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter) by Garr Reynolds


PZ is an inspiring book that shows how to break out of the “Death by PowerPoint” presentation mode. It’s an easy, fun read that guides you towards how to think about and structure your presentation such that your audience is engaged and retains the major points you are trying to get across.


The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam


This book doesn’t just tell you how to draw pictures to get your point across; in fact isn’t really about drawing. It dives deeper into how visualization and thinking about problems visually helps you not only get your point across, but it is central to helping you understand the problem better so that you develop a better solution that in turn you can better present to your client.


Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business thinking and strategies behind successful Web 2.0 implementations. by Amy Shuen


This is chock full of real-life case studies about ways companies were able to implement Web 2.0 technologies to solve particular business problems. The case studies are backed by strong analysis of business models and comparisons to other approaches.


Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty by Peter Cappelli


This book is an excellent overview of the general problem of Talent Management, starting with a historical perspective, before there ever was HR, and taking us through the various changes in the business landscape in terms of regulation, technology, globalization, etc., showing how those factors affected the way Talent was viewed and managed, both in terms of acquisition and retention as well as training and development, all based on the supply and demand economics of the time and industry. It then lays out four major principles to act as guides for companies to address their Talent needs.


slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte


An excellent companion to Presentation Zen, this book is a deeper dive into the specifics of creating a presentation (color choices, layouts, graphics, etc.). Whereas PZ is more the kind of book you’d read straight through and then occasionally refer to refresh your memory about it’s way of thinking, slide:ology is more of a reference manual you would go to for help on particular design questions.


The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t–and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner


Links the concepts from psychology research brought up in books like “Predictable Irrationality” (e.g. Recency Effect, Anchoring Rule, etc.) to the agendas of major institutions like business, government and media and how they use those effects to further their aims. Does a great job showing how statistics are warped and misrepresented to push the populations and markets towards actions they’d otherwise not take, mostly through fear, one of our strongest evolutionary survival traits.


The New Human Capital Strategy: Improving the Value of Your Most Important Investment–Year After Year by Bradley W. Hall


A clear, well-structured approach to the problem of figuring out which of the actions that you are taking with your workforce are actually giving you the results you are looking for. It takes a “systems thinking” view of the problem, designing a blueprint for the problem and then building the system from there.


Financial Intelligence for HR Professionals: What You Really Need to Know About the Numbers (Financial Intelligence) by Karen Berman, Joe Knight, and John Case


Despite the drab title, this book is actually quite fun to read (really!) and since HR has been told that speaking the language of business is key to being a strategic partner, this is a great way to start learning. It’s written in a friendly style that comes right out and tells the HR reader which things matter, how they matter, and which things really aren’t as crucial to know so you don’t get distracted by them. Each section is loaded with examples from recent history (especially scandals) linking HR areas of responsibility to financial problems for companies.

Posted in hr, learning, talentedapps | 14 Comments »

TalentedApps Interviewed in Human Capital Vendor Space

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 22, 2008

about_jwillWilliam Tincup was kind enough to give us the opportunity to answer his questions about how we got started, what keeps us going, our future plans, and who our favorite human capital blogger is.

William (that’s him to the left, there), has created several blogs. Human Capital Vendor Space is a terrific blog and William’s writing style is refreshing and candid. We highly recommend you add it to your reader if you haven’t already.

Posted in community, hr, talentedapps | Leave a Comment »