Recognizing talent

After doing some research on what songs topped the record charts 50 years ago, I discovered—as I wrote in a recent post—that the Top 10 songs on today’s Billboard’s Hot 100 compare quite favorably to the Top 10 a half century ago.

That was a surprise to me, given that artists like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Lovin’ Spoonful, and Supremes were in their prime, releasing some of their finest records then. Yet too many vapid, empty-calorie hits (like “Sweat Pea”) dominated the 1966 singles charts and made me appreciate our current batch of hits.

My conclusion was that while in 2016 we clearly don’t have hit songs of Beatles’ caliber we also don’t have the cringe-worthy mediocrity of “Hanky Panky” and “Wild Thing.” For example, the #1 song in the US this week is “Closer,” a very respectable offering by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey. In case you can’t get past its slick production, here’s the tune performed by Walk Off The Earth, a quirky Toronto band that we hope to see at the top of the charts soon.

This version is rhythmically more interesting than the original version, but the 'Smokers' own track is a very professional piece of work, as heard in the following video.

Despite my bias against EDM (The Chainsmokers are two DJs steeped in dance music), I have to recognize talent when I hear it or see it. And this duo—along with Halsey—is doing something right, with two strong hits at the moment. Meanwhile, the ubergifted Rihanna is back in the Top 10 and twenty one pilots has two excellent tracks there also. We could be doing a LOT worse.

Ok, time for a business lesson. How about this one: we have to get beyond our own tastes and biases to spot genuine talent.

I don’t much care for electronica, synth pop, robo pop, or anything that distracts from a good melody, groove, harmonic progression, and lyric. (That’s why I favor singer-songwriters, alt-rock, and Americana these days, especially if it’s stripped down.) But talent is talent and I want to keep getting better at recognizing it—in its many forms.

Being a good talent evaluator is obviously important if you’re a venture capitalist, a small business owner, or a hiring manager of a larger firm. Your success would clearly depend on your ability to bracket your personal preferences and prejudices and identify talent when it presents itself.

But recognizing talent in another—potential or kinetic—seems to be a useful ability in any endeavor. Deciding whom you’re going to buy from and sell to or whom you’re going to partner, collaborate, or share information with—is all related to recognizing some talent or ability in another. The day-to-day decisions we make about whom to get involved with (for minutes, hours, days, or years) have consequences ranging from the trivial to the life-altering. This has obvious implications in our personal lives as well.

But if you’re a business leader, recognizing (and then hiring and developing) talent—as I blogged about eight years ago—may be your most important job.

* As a footnote to the above, 50 years ago this week the #1 song in the land was The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” which became an instant classic. It was subsequently made a hit by Phil Collins in 1982 and covered by The Dixie Chicks in 1999 and by Joseph Gordon Levitt in 2011. I do have some doubts that any song in the current Top 10 will accomplish that feat.

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  1. I missed a lot of opportunities in life looking for business and art associates who were just like me. Any kind of conflict, anything that wasn't to my personal taste, didn't stand a chance.

    Like I said, I missed a lot.

    I'm noticing, with the band I'm in now, that learning to play a song sure helps get you past your prejudices. I wouldn't have given you a nickel for some of the dance stuff I've learned keyboard parts for, until we started playing them and sounding good. All of a sudden, it's not such a dumb song.

    Perhaps that works in other arenas besides music, eh?

    1. I'll also note that this song reminds me a lot of Owl City's Unbelievable on his newest album (Go, Hanson!) There's another musician I didn't appreciate until multiple listens. Some of Adam Young's stuff is light and fluffy, but there is some genuine songwriting in there. Wouldn't have known it, though, if I didn't have a 12-year-old daughter who can make me listen to anything she wants.

      1. Now that you mention it, Closer reminds me of several other songs. I'm a huge fan of Owl City, which deserves its own post one of these days.

  2. Recognizing talent is an important skill and even more important is recognizing where that talent in terms of expression and what environmental and experiential needs are frequired for full expression of the talent. Business leaders are responsible not only for the bottom line but the wake they leave. And we are all responsible to Eternity for talent that does not make it to full expression. Those who 'own or can buy' the resources of creation may have a much greater responsibility than they have 'recognized.'

    1. "And we are all responsible to Eternity for talent that does not make it to full expression."

      Provocative thought. I can read that as referring to one's own talent or to the talent in the people around us—or both. I'm certainly responsible for the full develop of whatever talent I have. I don't want to leave anything on the table. As for developing (or encouraging the development of) others' talent, that depends on my relationship with them.

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