How You Can Spot Your Own Talent

Only about 2% of people can work entirely without supervision. We call these people leaders. This is the kind of person you are meant to be.
Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog

Wouldn’t it be great if we each had a little Simon Cowell sitting on our shoulder telling us straight what we are good at and what we shouldn’t waste our time with? Maybe not.

It goes without saying though that we are more likely to enjoy our work and get the kind of success we want, more easily, if we are putting our natural talents to work. Indeed, there’s an ancient story about a king who goes off on a long journey and gives each of his servants a number of talents of gold to look after while he is gone. (This is where we get our modern meaning of the word talent from.)

When the king comes back, he naturally demands an accounting from his servants and in turn they each come back and show him what they have done with their talents. Most of them have grown their talents. Except one that is. One hid his talent and angers the king into throwing him out.

The moral of the story is clear but it does beg the question - How do you find out what your talents are?

An ex-colleague phoned me last week, having just left his job. I asked him to sum up for me exactly what he was looking for next - When I figure it out, I’ll let you know he said. His problem was that, like most managers, he could actually do almost anything he turned his hand to. The problem was not in having few choices, it lay in having too many; what he lacked was a clear focus on expressing his core talents.

I've been intrigued for years by this theme of tracking down what you really want when faced with almost infinite choices. This was one reason I wrote First, Know What You Want (available now) so it was great to come across the laughably simple key to spotting your own talents.

The talent question

Once a month I have the privilege of meeting groups of people who are thinking of starting their own business. You might know Richard Winfield from his Corporate Coach newsletter and Richard takes the delegates through an exercise to help them check that they are building their business on their natural talents. (It’s a lot easier to build a business around your natural talents but you’d be surprised how many people miss this step).

As Brian Tracy says

There are certain things that you can do or that you can learn to do that can make you extraordinarily valuable to yourself and to others. Your job is to identify your special area of uniqueness and then commit yourself to becoming very, very good in those areas. Eat That Frog

So how do you spot your own talent (and spot talent in others)?

How you do it is by answering a question that is so simple that you may not believe it at first…

What do you do easily and well that is difficult for other people?

Let me explain…

Do you ever find yourself in situations where other people are struggling with something but to you it’s so easy that you can’t understand why everyone can’t do it? Often these things are so small and happen so quickly that you may not even notice yourself doing it or just dismiss it as "just my job" or "nothing special".

Look for things that:

It’s by noticing what you can do that others can’t do so easily that enables you to spot your talents and the astonishing thing is that you many not even regard them as talents.

What you are looking for, and these things reveal, is where your innate abilities or aptitudes express themselves. They are the clues to your raw talents that you could invest in and develop.

For example, here’s a few random things that I do easily and one I struggle with.

The interesting thing is that I don’t regard any of these as special talents (when compared to brain surgery) BUT I've noticed that when I'm working in a team with people who don’t touch type, struggle with PowerPoint and are slow readers, they become real talents.

And when I meet people who can express themselves visually I am in awe because I have to work really hard at it.

These are just small examples but when I made the complete list it was really interesting to see how certain things grouped in little clusters of talent. I also noticed that there were a couple that I just was not investing in at all…

Talent in the team

You can spot talent in your team in just the same way.

What does this person do easily that others find hard?

And as a manager you can really help your own career by helping others to get in the right place to practice and grow their own talent. You become more successful by helping people express themselves more easily (not as some managers think by cutting off other’s success the moment you see it).

So, here is how to spot your own talent

  1. Start by noticing everything over the next few days that comes easily to you but not to others. Notice especially the very small things that come naturally to you.
  2. Write them down.
  3. Notice what all these things have in common. You probably have several groups of talents.
  4. Ask yourself How am I growing and nurturing these talents? and What would be possible for me if I was to invest and develop these talents? (What would I be telling the king?)
  5. Notice how much smoother the flow of your life and work are when you are using one of your talents.
  6. (optional) Notice your team and what comes easily to whom. Ask yourself Have I got these people in the right place?. And notice how much easier your life becomes when you have them all using their talent to the fullest.