Adventures in Talent Development…Not

talentIn 2011, at the National Association for Gifted Children’s annual conference in New Orleans, NAGC President Dr. Olszewski-Kubilius gave an address outlining a paradigm shift in the way in which the organization would approach the field moving forward. Giftedness, she told us, would no longer be the focus.

Sitting in the audience while Dr. Olszewski-Kubilius outlined the new focus, a shiver ran up my spine as she spoke the words “talent development.” I felt a tremendous and immediate sense of foreboding.

I wasn’t the only one who had concerns. The NAGC announcement was followed by considerable criticism from the gifted and talented community. Dr. Jim Deslile, for example, was most concerned with the measurement of giftedness through achievement, rather than as a person’s natural state of being. Dick Kantenberger agreed, believing that the new focus may result in gifted children being left undiscovered. And Dr. Linda Silverman also expressed her objections to the new focus during a presentation I attended at the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented’s annual conference. Her concerns were tied to the achievement issue as well as the lack of attention that this new model would pay to the psychological and emotional issues of giftedness.

While I agree with many of the potential issues these individuals’ cite, my main objection to the new focus is really based on a different perspective. Here is why I have a problem with the shift to “talent development” as the focus – it all comes down to business.

You see, I’ve spent the last decade in corporate training, and I am well-acquainted with the term “talent development.” Talent development is the human resource catch-phrase for the strategic training of employees. It doesn’t necessarily refer to gifted employees – it is really more of a determined focus on developing every employee’s capacity to do their job for the greatest benefit of the company. For that reason, no employee would fall outside the umbrella of talent development.

Talent development is about utilizing the individual for a competitive business advantage. To date, it has never been used as an effort to develop the total person through the full measure of his or her potential. It is about actualizing business objectives – not actualizing individuals. Talent development is the development of the individual as a means to an end, not as the end itself. Human resource departments only care about your talent insofar as it benefits their companies; they don’t develop employees based upon some notion of nurturing talent for talent’s sake. They also care little for the psycho-social needs of their employees.

To be fair, I’m certain there are exceptions to this rule. I spent several years at one company that exemplified the worst; I’ve spent the past year at a company that is refreshingly different, so I know they exist.

There is a big market for talent development, particularly for expert consultants who can come in and help develop a company’s employees – to show companies how to supercharge the engines of commerce and business. Such experts are great in number and diversity and, in my experience, corporations seem to sample a new expert each season without any real, measurable benefit. It is a very profitable business for the individuals and organizations who operate in it.

Maybe I am a cynic, but I can’t help wondering if part of the decision by the NAGC to shift focus to Talent Development is to align itself with Corporate America and, possibly, its deep pockets. By changing the focus to talent development, increasing attention to adults, and easing the cut-off point to include the top 10%, the organization places all of the fundamental pillars in place to establish itself as a human resource think tank. It is a decision that I think may help the organization thrive, but likely at the expense of the gifted.

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