Technology and globalization have changed the way people, companies, and countries specialize.
Traditional criteria to assess whether a country has more or less power include weapons, natural resources, techno-industrial production, and cultural influence. There is however, a new and decisive factor: a new era of talent is taking shape.
The perception of a global war of talent is not a recent phenomenon. But to a certain extent, talent used to be considered as a synonym for natural vocation. One had to capitalize on natural gifts or niches. There was a benchmark group made up of “specialized” individuals, companies with their “core businesses”, and countries with “comparative advantages”.
In 2008, Malcom Gladwell wrote a best-seller called “Outliers” where he tried to explained to the general public what the DNA of success is. His “rule of the 10,000 hours” became popular. The emergence of talent would depend on the amount of time spent on various activities as distinct as playing the cello or programming computers. The earlier one starts, the better. Figures like YoYo Ma and Bill Gates come from that discipline.
The re-globalization which is ahead of us leads to post-specialization. Just six years ago, cloud computing, tablets, and their eco-system of applications were incipient. Now, they allow a historical shortcut. It has become possible to compact those 10,000 hours. New technologies act as a catalyst for talent.
This way, people, companies and nations have to be multifunctional and complex. Engineers have to write well. Agribusiness has to deal with design. Oil producing countries may turn themselves into entertainment hubs.
There are already some metrics to identify such an Era of Talent. Harvard has issued an “Atlas of Economic Complexity”. It assesses the impact of talent (which is called know-how in this instance) on income and growth. What matters is not the number of hours that a student has to study, but what he actually manages to do with what he has learned. So there is an umbilical relationship between entrepreneurship and talent when one measures the success of companies and nations.
The Insead Business School has also issued its “Index of competitiveness of global talent”. In this research, which includes 103 countries accounting for 96 percent of world GDP, Brazil ranks 59th.
The reasons for such a weak performance go beyond a deficient education system or the share of GDP that is devoted to innovation (just 1 percent). Factors that inhibit talent include the predominance of the state, the low level of connection to global markets, the fact that young people prefer to enter the civil service through public exams, and the prevailing mentality in most Brazilian universities that they should not “submit themselves to the logic of the market”.
Here there comes a double challenge. If we speak in terms of parameters that go beyond 10,000 hours, what would we say of those who at the beginning of adulthood, have not even focused on their gifts for just 1,000 hours?
Brazilians are born with a life expectancy of 75 years. Without the potential of talent, they will be of little use to the economy of knowledge. They will however be “useful”, and for quite a long period of time, to drug trafficking, piracy and the most violent demonstrations of the urban lumpenproletariat.
And, at the end of the day, Brazil has to feed its elite of talents if this group wants to avoid being increasingly marginalized while global destiny is being redefined.
PS. Congratulations to the Center for Company-School Integration (CIEE) for its 50 years of forging talent in Brazil.