The New Talent Paradigm

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A couple of weeks ago, I spent a fabulous, fascinating and inspirational four days in Monterey at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference, otherwise known as TED.

Along with 999 other people, I listened to speakers such as Philippe Starck, Murray Gell-Mann, John Doerr, Alan Kay, Edward de Bono, Daniel Goleman, JJ Abrams, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Harris (my favorite Internet artist — check out his work at Number27.org if you don’t already know it), Richard Branson and Bill Clinton (there to receive a TED prize), and mingled with a huge amount of extraordinarily interesting fellow attendees.

What TED always brings home to me (I was on my fourth visit — a mere novice compared to the many veterans who have been going for years) is how everything starts with people.

This might sound like a total truism. But one of the many differences between TED and other conferences is the emphasis TED puts on showcasing people. Yes, TED showcases brilliant thinking and big, world-changing ideas and inspirational achievements — but it does this by showcasing the extraordinary people who came up with all of those things, and enabling you to see, understand and marvel at the human spirit and the talent that drives technological, social, aesthetic, artistic, environmental, global change.

One of the speakers, lexicographer Erin McKean — a highly engaging woman with a penchant for wearing striking dresses (and blogging about them at www.dressaday.com) — had what I thought was a great comment. She said, ‘The Internet is made up of words and enthusiasm.’ She was talking in the context of her own work (she describes herself as a ‘dictionary evangelist’) but I thought that that was a great expression of what drives everything happening online today. Because enthusiasm — human enthusiasm – carries you a very long way. One of my own favorite quotes (unattributed, as it wasn’t said by someone well-known and I have sadly forgotten his name) is, ‘The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.’

But if it’s all about the people – where do you find those souls predisposed to ignite, and how do you ignite them?

I ask this because one of the biggest issues being highlighted in the marketing and communications industry today, in every arena, from brand marketers through ad agencies to interactive and digital companies, is ‘Where do we find the forward-thinking, future-focused talent that we need to operate powerfully and effectively across the holistic media and communications landscape of the future?’

The March issue of Creativity magazine tackles this question in an article headed, ‘Star Search: Where Will The Next Generation of Creative Talent Be Found?’, by asking a sample spectrum of creative directors, who variously talk about how they relentlessly monitor the best young talent coming out of the top design and interactive schools, study award show winners, keep track of the top talent at their competitors, and are now hiring out of the movie business, TV, game development, product design and architecture fields.

Inherent in what they say, however, is the implicit assumption that a lot of the people already working for them, or in the industry in general, just don’t hack it in this brave new world.

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