Why talent is overrated

Posted on December 7, 2008 

Why talent is overrated

It is mid-1978, and we are inside the giant Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, looking into a cubicle shared by a pair of 22-year-old men, fresh out of college. Their assignment is to sell Duncan Hines brownie mix, but they spend a lot of their time just rewriting memos. They are clearly smart – one has just graduated from Harvard, the other from Dartmouth – but that doesn’t distinguish them from a slew of other new hires at P&G.

What does distinguish them from many of the young go-getters the company takes on each year is that neither man is particularly filled with ambition. Neither has any kind of career plan. Every afternoon they play waste-bin basketball with wadded-up memos. One of them later recalls, “We were voted the two guys probably least likely to succeed.”

These two young men are of interest to us now for only one reason: They are Jeffrey Immelt and Steven Ballmer, who before age 50 would become CEOs of two of the world’s most valuable corporations, General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) and Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500). Contrary to what any reasonable person would have expected when they were new recruits, they reached the apex of corporate achievement.

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