I have a confession to make and it’s probably best just to come out with it… The X-Factor is one of my guilty pleasures. There I’ve said it.

If you are not familiar with this hugely successful piece of television it is a reality show where people with hitherto undiscovered talents get a chance to demonstrate them to the world.

Often the participants will be children, groomed from a young age for their shot at stardom, and while their performances are invariably wonderful they are not the ones that make this show so compelling. At least to me.

What makes this my guilty pleasure is when someone apprehensively walks on to the stage and puts in a performance so surprising that you wonder how they could have possibly kept their talent secret. Surely they would have been discovered by now? Surely everybody would know about them? How can this possibly be?

Take for example, Paul Potts. Paul is a rather unassuming mobile phone sales person who has a rather special talent. Given the chance and the encouragement something really amazing was discovered.

This performance in particular got me thinking about why the talents and skills of so many people like Paul remain undiscovered for so long or perhaps forever. There are some obvious thoughts:

  • Perhaps Paul was never encouraged to develop and show his talent
  • Maybe he was never given the forum to display it
  • His friends and family never shared (or more likely didn’t even know)
  • The talent seekers were not looking for an opera singer in a mobile phone shop in South Wales!

Whatever the reason, amazing people with amazing skills like Paul remain undiscovered and so much potential unfulfilled. As he himself says “my dream is to spend my life doing what I feel I was born to do”. How many are not doing what they were born to do?

This next example is Danyl Johnson. Danyl is a primary school teacher from a nondescript town in middle England. This is his audition.

Ok not much to say, and definitely a bit gratuitous on my part, but I like that performance for its joyfulness and I think it proves my point.

The thing that is most striking about The X-Factor and other such shows (America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Etc.) is just how many talented people there are waiting to be discovered or waiting for the chance to show their skills.

We all know the superstars of music, singing, athletics, comedy, etc… but the tail of the talent curve is long and rich and full of amazing people waiting to be found.

The long tail of talent in your organization

The thing is this… there are amazing people in your organization (and your extended talent networks) right now who have the skills and experience you need but are waiting to be discovered or allowed to fulfil their passions. How many are unseen to you and what can you do about this?

The most important thing is to understand that the information you have about the skills at your disposal is inherently incomplete, inaccurate, and out of date. Start by asking yourself how I can change the quality of information I have and what impact would it have on my business. What if I could win more business by showing how talented my organization really is? What if I could get the absolute best people on my project teams to delight my customers? What if I could mould my talent for the way my business is changing and evolving? Would this make my business and me more successful?

Top down skills or competency models only provide a tiny glimpse of what your organization really knows. The knowledge that exists is almost certainly richer and more diverse than your prevailing skills map would suggest and your challenge is to make this visible. I believe that this can best happen through combining social data and machine data with the existing skills assessment data.

Social data in this context is the sharing and validation of skills information by people who have worked together on actual projects. Such a “bottom-up” collection of skills information provides a very accurate and complete view of your people. Using the wisdom of the crowd to unearth the wisdom of the crowd so to speak.

Machine data is just as interesting. Ask yourself how many systems within your organization contain small pieces of evidence about a person’s skills or knowledge. What if you could trawl through your support systems, project management systems, enterprise social networks, talent management platforms, and build a view of the skills your people have? Machine Learning is at the core of the work we are doing at TeamFit and we’re excited with what we are able to glean about the state of skills and knowledge in an organization by collecting small pieces of evidence.

In my next blog post I will dive into the many types of evidence that we can use to infer skills at an individual, team, organizational, and network level. In the meantime, I will remind you that your people have skills and expertise and passions (the x-factor) that you don’t know exist. Go find them!!

Feature photo: Ben Terrett. Flickr.