Talent blindness

Spotting talent requires the ability to see it. Plain and simple.

Yet, people can’t “see” others’ talents, even though they’d like to believe they can (and will try to convince you so).

Reality is we’re not that good in recognizing our own incompetence, even when we keep making errors time and again. (Watch this TED-Ed video to better understand this effect.)

Moreover, optics can be misleading. As Paul Graham put it—

“I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg. There was a guy once who we funded who was terrible. I said: ‘How could he be bad? He looks like Zuckerberg!’”

In other words, we fail to spot talent not for lack of talent but because our own limitations make great talent remain “invisible” in plain view.

This is what we call the talent blind spots problem.

Takeaway #1. We all need help compensating for our talent blind spots, even though many of us would hate to admit it.

But there’s a second — and far bigger — problem.

The problem, as Socrates put it, is that “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

In other words, we only know the type of talent we already know, but we have no idea what other types of talent might be out there—even though they might be critical to our future success.

And what we know is tightly correlated with where we come from, our social milieu, what we’ve seen before, and the people we tend to interact with.

We know what we know (known knowns), we know that we don’t know certain things (known unknowns), but we most certainly don’t know what we don’t know (unknown unknowns).

To put this bluntly, a Silicon Valley VC will have little to no idea what an African entrepreneur might look like; and a Wall Street recruiter won’t know what non-US-college entry-level talent might look like. Both will miss out on invaluable talent.

And that’s a huge limiting factor because, as Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

We call this the talent blindness problem.

Takeaway #2. We all need help unraveling our talent blindness, so we can find the talent we critically need but don’t know exists.

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