The Theory of Talent Evolution and Future Elite

Source:emlyon business schoolDate:2019-09-17

The “Be an Elite”, a public interest program for workplace, is jointly initiated by emlyon business school and Yicai Foundation. In the form of the “Guru League”, the Program aims at guiding and inspiring the life-cycle capacity building for professionals by integrating the respective strengths of all parties and empowering the workplace talents in a broad sense. The program is tailored to suit China’s workplace and elites, review its work ethics, mental state, prospects and workplace environment in order to set examples for future Chinese elites.

Anson Tang, Co-Director of Global HR & Organization Innovation Center (GHOIC), emlyon business school, was invited by Yicai C+ to present his review of and outlook on talent development from the perspective of “talent evolution and future elites”.

The Theory of Talent Evolution and Future Elite

The standards of talents have undergone several changes in the history of human society. The first stage is that before the 20th century, the main criterion for excellent talents was whether the physical strength was strong, and then before the 1980s, the second stage: the main standards of talents are gradually transformed into intelligence quotient (IQ).

High IQ makes some people good at understanding and solving problems, analyzing complex situations and using the latest information more quickly than others. We usually call them agile, intelligent people. Intelligence is a fundamental factor related to species survival: the basic ability of understanding patterns, being familiar with the environment, adjusting and adapting to survival and development are not only unique to human beings. High IQ has certain innateness. Some people are born with agile thinking, with a smart brain and more insight than others. At the same time, their judgment wider is more accurate, better learning ability, and scope of knowledge. In 1921, psychologists explained the IQ as: the ability of knowledge acquirement, the ability of abstract thinking, the ability of environmental adaptation, the ability of experimental learning, and the ability to response well by taking the psychological linearity as a measure.

Today, the exact definition of IQ is still controversial and has not reached consensus yet. But for the importance of intelligence, all experts can reach an agreement. For all definitions of IQ, two of them are the greatest common divisors: one is experimental learning, and the other is environmental adaptation. The level of IQ is partly determined by innateness, and some of it is acquired by learning. Genetic inheritance can bring innate intellectual advantages, such as the storage capacity and operational capability of one computer are higher than the others.

Regarding the type of intelligence, the debate has never been stopped. Psychologist Cattell (1987) divides intelligence into two types: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. In physics, fluids can exist in any shape, while static crystals are immutable. Fluid intelligence refers to the ability of response to information processing as the information stream flows into the perceptual layer; as soon as the new conditions emerge, the ability of quick adaption; and the ability to deal with interpersonal relationships, solve unfamiliar problems and learn new knowledge. Crystallized intelligence is an established ability that has become an intrinsic part of the individual. Crystallized intelligence is the idea and knowledge that hardwired by our brains, and is the foundation and subject that accumulates after lifelong learning. It can be a way of dealing with things, or a lyric or verse that appear in your mind unconsciously, or a reasonable way to handle things professionally.

Fluid intelligence reaches its maximum level before the age of 20, then becomes steady and declines after aging. But as long as one keeps thinking positively, his crystallized intelligence will increase continuously. Crystallized intelligence is more closely related to experience, and it is accumulated gradually. When a member of the senior staff compares with a new employee or an intern, decades of experience can give him a significant advantage. Crystallized intelligence is also affected by fluid intelligence, so some people spend more time in learning new things. Moreover, there are other factors that influence intelligence, like, personality: introverts like to read and learn, and extroverts who are as smart as introverts like to socialize, have fun and hands-on experiments. People can learn from books or from others. Introverts like to study independently, and they usually behave better in crystallized intelligence testing. It is clear that positivity is also an important factor which affecting intelligence. An adult with highly motivated to learn is more efficient than an adult with a slightly lower learning interest. An interesting phenomenon is that American politician James Flynn discovered that the intelligence of human beings as a whole (especially in developed countries) is improving constantly. He defined this as "Flynn effect". The "Flynn effect" does not point out the genetic factors that affect intelligence levels, but points to environmental factors include: education, nutrition, social trends, parental involvement, social environment, etc.

A milestone event in 1973 also indicates that the talent standard has entered the third stage: David McClelland, an American professor and behavioral psychologist at Harvard University, published "Testing for Competence Rather than for Intelligence" in the American Journal of Psychology, which completely changed the concept of talent in human society. The research team led by him has found through a large sample of research that traditional knowledge, skill testing and even IQ testing cannot predict the performance of individuals and the success of personal development, but competency - "the in-depth features of an individual which distinguish a person with outstanding achievement from an ordinary person in a job are motivation, traits, self-image, attitude or values, knowledge in a certain field, cognitive or behavioral skills, etc. Or any individual characteristics that can be reliably measured or counted and can significantly distinguish between excellence and general performance".

Now the standard of talent has evolved to the fourth stage: potential. Due to the ever-changing in the business environment, it is not enough to be qualified for the current position. Not only for people to continue learning, but also need to adapt the new ability and face the future challenges.High potential means that talent has sufficient inherence and potential to create better performance now or in the future. Potential means the possibility of improvement and progress, and people with high potential will expand their abilities or optimize their talents as they grow up. High potential means that actively exploring individual talents, utilizing existing resources, and continuously developing and upgrading them while striving to achieve goals, that is, having the ability that can be and must be developed and implemented.

Talents can choose to change their work environment and are also influenced by the environment. High-potential talents are often dynamic, adaptable, and constantly interacting with teams and corporate culture.

High Potential, the Criteria of Future Elites

High potential is relative to mediocre, and high potential means the greatest likelihood of success and optimal performance, but no matter how much potential an individual has, it is scarce in nature. When it comes to high-potential talents, we usually think of descriptive words with talent, outstanding ability, rich experience, strong insight, and proficiency, but these descriptions cannot be used as objective criteria for judging. Identifying and managing high-potential talent is not easy, and the potential is not one-sided. The performance (or efficiency, achievement, etc.) of talent depends on many factors: such as proficiency in work, enthusiasm for work, performance reward and punishment system of performance and cooperation with colleagues. At the same time, the skills and efforts of the talents are closely related to their environment. Talents can choose and change the working environment, and they are also affected by the environment. High-potential talents are often dynamic, adaptable, and constantly interacting with teams and corporate culture. Therefore, the combination of talent, organization, and the current and future working environment can clarify the definition of “high potential”. High potential also involves factors such as role, level, time, strategic position, etc. Someone has high potential as a pianist, but as a painter, he may have a low level of qualification. A person has the potential to be competent in manager, but does not have the potential to serve as a director-level position. It is generally believed that people who are highly talented and most likely to gain high performance will eventually become influential and play the role of administrator and leader. However, potential does not necessarily refer to leadership potential. Leadership is only one type of potential that requires specific skills and qualities.

According to SHL, the world's leading talent testing agency, found that only 1 out of 7 high-performance people are high-potential (HiPo) talents. Through decades of research based on up to 6.6 million employee data, SHL has redefined the word “potential” and believes that high-potential talents need to following 3 characteristics: Aspiration: the ambition of promoting to a higher position; Ability: the ability of taking more responsibility and getting the success in higher-ranking positions; Engagement: willing to focus more on work and cope with higher challenges.

Futurist Nicholas Negroponte said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Guessing is not the best way to predict whether high-potential talent will succeed in the future, but to actively and systematically cultivate and rationalize appointments. “Potential” is not a fixed rail, but represents the possibility of reaching the destination. It is an interaction of internal and external factors, infinite changes and possibilities, and is closely related to the environmental background. It may even represent multiple paths, and the perfect fit of personal potential with the environment and opportunities is almost non-existent, while there is a bottom state in the potential. If high-potential talents are not provided with the suitable environment, that is, they are deprived of the opportunity to improve their skills and receive education, then even the smartest genius cannot show his talents. Potential needs to be achieved by opportunities. The “Be an Elite” initiated by the Shanghai Yicai Foundation and emlyon business school is such a plan to seek and cultivate high-potential future elites.