Transform your skills into talents

Given a choice between a talented job candidate and a skilled job seeker, most recruiters would select the person with talent. Why? Because talent implies a higher level of accomplishment and mastery. A talented staff member is someone with extra flair or ability. Imagine an organisation which only employs talented people. If that’s the sort of business you want experience in, you need to learn how to transform skills into talents. 


What exactly is the difference? After all, the words “skill” and “talent” are used interchangeably in many professional conversations. In educational psychology, though, skill is defined as a learned ability, whereas talent is used to describe a natural aptitude. Put simply, skills are applied consciously, but the application of a talent involves using unconscious mastery to produce exceptional results.  

Imagine two students in a dance class. The skilled student accurately replicates a sequence of movements precisely as they have been taught 10 minutes previously. She is both confident and competent in her application of a learned sequence of steps. The talented student adds her own signature to the dance. She subtly changes movements or facial expressions in order to capture the mood of the music. Although she is performing the same steps, she is adding an extra dimension to the execution of the dance. 

Does being able to perform as a talented dancer require an innate ability to dance better than other people can? The answer, it seems, is no. Performing as a talented dancer involves building a level of skill which transcends conscious attention and takes the student into the domain of unconscious mastery.  

What exactly does this mean? It means that someone who is talented can perform skills within their talent domain without needing to think consciously about how they’re doing this. In other words, they have achieved what Noel Burch referred to as unconscious competence. This is a peak performance state.  

When you achieve unconscious competence, you go into what positive psychologists call a flow state. You experience joy in performance. The task at hand becomes effortless. Your mind is focused and you exhibit high levels of discipline. Your output is likely to be excellent and above average standards. This, of course, is why talented employees are highly valued within organisations.  

So, is it possible to turn skilled people into talented people? I believe the answer is ‘yes’, under very specific conditions. Firstly, those people must be motivated to build ability within the chosen domain. Secondly, they must be given opportunities to master microskills within that domain. Thirdly, they must practise those microskills regularly and competently. As the saying goes, ‘Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.’  

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About the author of these tips

Eleanor is a specialist in positive psychology. Her key area of expertise is helping smart professionals build their social and emotional intelligence. Since 1994, Eleanor has been teaching talented people – like you- how to think, communicate and behave in ways that build success. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming