Too Much Talent Can Be Harmful to your Career

Is that possible that having too much talent can be harmful to your career?  Sounds kind of fishy but let’s dig a little bit deeper.  Instead of jumping into the business side, lets look at sports at ask the same question can you can have too much talent.  I have mentioned before that I played High School golf and walked on to my college team golf team at Columbus State University.  Like many people, I was good at golf but not great.  I would say the bottom third of that team was good and the top 10 were great golfers by any standard.  In fact, we finished third in the NCAA Championship that year.  However, none of the golfers on that team ever made it to the PGA.  People that make it to the PGA, I am going to classify them as world class athletes.  That gives us three classifications good, great and world class.  With the advent of social media, I thought it would be fun to look back and see how these good and great golfers turned out.  Many of the great ones played on the mini tours while most of the good ones went on to college and into business.  Looking back after thirty years, it seemed like the good golfers were just as successful, if not more so, than the great ones.  Of course, that could be just me being bias that I was never any good.  Oddly enough another research report came up and shed a bright light on my observation.

This research study focused on Baseball players.  Like the golf break down, many baseball players that played in high school and college were good.  The great ones got drafted by major league teams and moved into the farm leagues.  The odds of getting drafted were less than 1%; which basically, means that 99% of the baseball players were good but not great.  How about the world class and making it to the majors?  Somewhere between 5-10% of the great players actually make to the big league and become world class.  You can see the odds are slim, just as they were when I played.  Now, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to compare the MLB players with the drafted minor league players or the good players (non-drafted).  The most interesting comparison was between the good players not drafted and the great ones that were but didn’t make it to the majors.  It turns out that after 10 years, the great players make 40-50% less than the good ones.  Looking at the incomes of these two groups the less skilled baseball players were better off than the ones that excelled.  That seemed to match up with my informal review of my team mates. Why?  The reason is that most athletes are hard headed and never want to admit that they don’t have the talent.  They seem to stay in the minor leagues or mini tours barely scraping out a living.  The good players realize they won’t make so they go on to college, choose a career and then apply the same work ethic to the business side.  That delay in getting into a career is costly for those with great talent.

How about the business world?  We see similarities.  In a recent study of students that graduated during a recession have a huge disparity of income versus students graduating during a boom time.  Having a delay in getting started into a career has a huge impact after a number of years, just as we saw in the sports area.  In this case, the problem isn’t an issue of talent but rather of bad timing.  However, we have all seen people get moved out of roles because they weren’t skilled enough only to land on their feet somewhere else.  These people seem to move around to different roles until they get a perfect fit and then their career accelerates.  I remember working with a fellow years ago (Not in Telecommunications) who just like what we were doing.  While I may not have enjoyed it, I made sure I worked very hard while he sort of slacked off. He then moved into another role that he liked and he quickly moved of the corporate ladder.  Eventually, he had to apply his talent but he was smart enough to know when to hold them and when to fold them.  Stupidly, I played every hand and lost in the end.  I didn’t know what sports people knew.  You may have to decide when to be good, when to be great, and when to go all in and become world class.

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