Words-worth: Talent

If you hear someone say they work in talent management, don't assume their job is to look after singers, dancers, comedians or people who bend balloons. These days, any employee can be 'talent', and talent management can be just another word for 'personnel' or 'human resources'. The 'talent' was a unit of weight and money used in the ancient world. It acquired its meaning of a personal aptitude or gift through Jesus's story of a man who gives his servants some 'talents' and wants to know what they have done with them. From the 16th century, writers used the word figuratively, to represent a 'gift' that can be nurtured or wasted. In the 19th century, it became something you are. It moved from politics into show business and then, despite being a slang term for attractive members of the opposite sex, into business. In 1997, McKinsey & Co identified a 'war for talent' requiring firms to spot 'Group A' employees and throw money at them. Swap fish for money and the approach works well with performing seals.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

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