Talent vs. Skill: What’s the Difference?

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Fundamentally, talent is something you are born with (e.g. being fast, extroverted, great hand-eye coordination, amazing voice), whereas a skill is something that can be taught (e.g. the law, customer service, how to code).

What I find interesting is that many poor hiring decisions and life choices are made because there’s misunderstanding about the difference between the two.

For example, a company may undervalue the talent they need and overvalue what can be trained. As a result, they hire people for their related experience (skill), but who lack the right talent or character to be successful in the long-run.

Consider Southwest Airlines. This company is known for hiring people who are outgoing and funny and then teaching them to be flight attendants. Can you imagine this approach flipped around? Hiring people with experience as a flight attendant and then trying to teach them to be funny? It would be a disaster.

In the workforce and in life, the best approach is to align innate talent with learned skills. If a company wants a great client service person, then they need to understand the inherent talents that the job requires (patience, attitude, quick thinking) and understand what can be taught or trained on the mechanics of the role.

Training and coaching are most effective when it’s given to people who have raw talent and want to improve. It’s the reason why the major leagues have hitting coaches. The player has talent, they just need coaching and refinement to help them become an all-star.

If we are able to align our talents and those of our teams through training that builds upon our natural abilities, we will all achieve a lot more in life and business.

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