Talentism is the new capitalism
In 2013 Dr. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum made a profound observation: “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production. Just as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization, capital is now giving way to human talent. Talentism is the new capitalism.”
Regardless of whether a person is employed full-time, or working in the growing ‘Gig’ Economy, those who thrive do so because of their ability to apply knowledge to a particular problem.
In this post I will focus on sharing examples of how Talentism has already changed the economic landscape and how an untapped talent pool in the emerging markets may have the opportunity to leapfrog into this new economic model.
Talentism on the rise
We are already seeing huge shifts among technology firms where meritocracies of talented individuals drive innovation and shape markets with vast ecosystems of partners. Microsoft and Google have both seen talented individuals with varied backgrounds, many from “emerging markets,” take on top leadership positions.
We also see design becoming a key component of software and manufacturing. Germany’s Frog was acquired by Flextronics Software, which is now part of Aricent, (controlled by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), a product engineering and software firm. Google acquired mechanical design firm Gecko Design, Capital One now owns experience firm Adaptive Path, while management consultancy McKinsey has integrated Lunar Design into its model.
At the core of these acquisitions is the recognition that people bring a unique sensibility to processes and products, and that innovative talent is valuable.
Talentism, however, is often as much a part of income inequality as any other feature of capitalism. A small group of very talented people gain access to capital that transforms their ideas into innovations, and their innovations turn back into capital for them and their investors. At the same time, billions of smart, talented individuals can’t find the foothold to lift them out of poverty, and increasingly, those in the middle class are slipping from the crumbling social and economic infrastructure that has supported America and Europe since the end of World War II.
The way out is to broaden access to jobs, and that requires not just passion, but action.
Untapped talent blocked by traditional barriers
According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), talent is the number one concern for CEOs (The 3 Things CEOs Worry About the Most). There is a real opportunity to include more talented people in this economy. It is important to ask then, what is holding people back – and why are so many people left out of the talent economy?
Access to the Global Knowledge Economy, or participation in Talentism, requires that people have access to education so that they can build their knowledge — access to jobs so that they can test existing knowledge — and work opportunities that let them expand what they know through experience. Unfortunately for many places in the world, access to education is lacking, and good jobs have already passed by much of the population which is relegated to low-wage service or industry jobs that offer little hope for advancement.
School system failure or what bring skills mismatch
The International Labor Organization, for instance, reported that Egypt was facing approximately 1.5 million unemployed young people (ILO 2011b) at the same time private sector firms were seeking to fill 600,000 vacancies. In South Africa the situation is even more extreme, with 3 million young people not in education, employment or training on top of 600,000 unemployed university graduates yet, 800,000 vacancies remained to be filled (African Economic Outlook, ‘Education & Skills Mismatch’).
Many factors drive these labor mismatches from structural changes in the economy to new technologies, as well as low college completion rates, for example in the U.S., leading to wage inequality due to those with degrees or credentials being in short supply. The accelerating pace of technology makes keeping up ever more difficult, requiring everyone to reskill at some level in order to acquire the knowledge to at least operate, if not to develop for, the next generation of mobile devices and networking technologies.
The language barrier to access global resources and opportunities
For many around the world, it is difficult to access the right kinds of learning if they aren’t skilled in English. Web Technology Surveys, W3Techs reports that currently about 54 percent of all content on the Internet is written in English. If you don’t know English, you can’t learn from the available resources. Non-English speaking educators may have a hard time transforming existing content into more locally relevant material leading to difficulty finding consumable topics of interest to those who want to engage in self-paced learning in their native language.
Being at the heart of the industry working on solving this challenge – I know we are making progress, but not at the pace we need.
Leapfrogging toward Talentism?
In telecommunications, Africa, much of the Middle East and China did not go through an era of home computing, because by the time the majority of people were able to afford computers, those computers were already smart phones – devices with more capabilities and lower price points than found in the original desktop technology. Technology can help connect talent to need.
It may well be that the Next Billion Millennials or Virtuals on the Internet don’t seek traditional jobs, but through efforts like internet.org, they reach into the new talent market and find global connections before they ever hold a traditional job. The Next Billion will need to be part of what the Internet Society sees as a “free and open Internet, one that will serve as a platform for human, social and economic development and be a tool for strengthening human rights.” Anything less offers unacceptable constraints. People need access to education and jobs, and the ability to align their talent and their passion with the work that fulfills them.
Many organizations like Upwork and Freelancer.com, along with technical sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or specialized services like data enhancement service CrowdFlower offer access points where people with skills can earn money in ways unsupported by their local economy. For people with the right skills, these sites can offer “jumping-in” points for access to the global economy.
Because of these “Gig Economy” labor markets, education, like the hours worked and the structure of projects, will be less formal and more on-demand. The rise of the boot camps, General Assembly and micro certifications support this emerging education model.
The path forward
I am a believer that much of the world’s untapped talent can leapfrog to this new economy. We will all win if this happens.
For the youth across the world, adapting to new ways of working may be relatively easy because they have no personal history with other economic realities, but their parents do. Transitioning to these new models will be more difficult for older workers who may not have some of the communication and collaboration skills required to persevere and thrive in the emerging talent economy – they may also be less open to online, just-in-time learning.
With those disruptions listed above, along with new ways to access education and job opportunities, we will likely experience a reshaping of the idea of work, and people’s relationships to work, that will be the cornerstones to accelerating adoption.
This requires that working people have personal confidence in their abilities, and a willingness to engage with other workers all over the world. Local investments and innovations in learning, and connections to the global economy will be critical in helping people at the edges of economic development find their path forward. In a way, Talentism represents a new level of diversity management in our corporate cultures!
Those CEOs who are suffering the most with talent shortages should be the ones encouraging investments in helping frame this transition, or even better, directly investing in ways that bring it about.