A Note On Talent: How Your Talents Should Adapt to our Changing World

In a world where technology is taking over and the integrity of our profession is being questioned, how can we, as talented individuals, succeed?

Alison Cornwell
CFO, Vue International

Firstly let’s define talent. Dictionaries define talent as being “a natural ability to do something well” – but is having talent enough?

My uncle was a partner in a small local accounting firm and I remember watching him in the early 1980s as he added up columns of numbers in client ledgers using mental arithmetic. He was always one hundred percent accurate and performed his calculations in a matter of seconds. It was incredible. He had a very impressive talent and although it was relevant to his role then it would no longer be relevant today.

Talent needs to be relevant

Consequently the first obvious key message is that talent needs to be relevant for people to succeed. So how do we ensure relevance and success?

1. Acceptance

Be aware and alert to the fact that technology is happening and with increasing pace.

2. Education

We must develop skills in areas that are relevant and will be valued. With an increasing focus on regulation, governance and globalization, there is a demand for people with strong financial and interpersonal skills as well as specialists in numerous technical areas.

3. Embracing Technology

Look for ways in which technology can help you to do a better job and at the same time make work more stimulating, meaningful and important.

What can I do that a machine can’t do?

This is a crucial question to ask when considering how individuals can succeed in a world of technological developments. When I talk about things that a machine can’t do I’m thinking of human to human interactions, novel situations and creating the A.I. technology in the first place.

When thinking about human to human interaction, the key is understanding the objectives, the needs, and the aspirations of the other parties involved. Novel situations – developing business strategies for example – is something a machine couldn’t do.

During my career, I’ve developed and executed strategies based on blue sky thinking and leveraging personal relationships and contacts – something that a machine could not do.

To use our talents in a meaningful way, each of us should have a robust understanding of the capabilities that we need in our respective roles including where our skills gaps lie.

How can I harvest technology to my advantage?

For me it’s all about identifying and implementing enablers. We need to design and automate information flow to focus efforts on consequences and follow ups. Rather than spending time on production of information, we must become responsive investigators.

By way of example at Vue International, we produce a suite of key performance indicator reports which the Territory finance teams compile and send to Vue’s head office for consolidation and circulation to the senior exec team via email. While this is very manageable you can imagine how voluminous the KPI reports could be if you wanted to drill down into each site looking at admissions, pricing, staff costs, etc, and we frequently do want to see this information!

To resolve this we developed a simple software solution in Tableau which sits on top of a data warehouse and which can deliver timely reporting with dashboards and alerts and customization options. This means that we now have almost real time information relevant to each business unit and driving a focus on operational improvement and forward looking solutions.

Utilizing technology  

In harnessing technology we become responsive investigators to deliver business improvements, rather than being report producers. Removal of the mundane aspects of jobs enables talent to develop in terms of leadership and business skills prioritization and recognizing what’s important.

We need to ensure our talent remains relevant to be valued. The first challenge is acceptance and recognition of our changing environments. The second challenge is education to recognize the skills gaps and to develop skills in areas that are relevant and will be valued. The final challenge is to be proactive and to embrace and harness ways in which we can use our talents to the full. And in doing all of these things we must of course always act with integrity.

I started the talk by asking how can we, as talented individuals, be relevant and succeed in a world where technology is taking over and the integrity of our profession is being questioned. I will finish this talk by saying let each of us, as talented individuals, be courageous and grab the opportunities afforded to us by technology. In the immortal words of the late great Robin Williams in the film Dead Poet Society:

Carpe diem, seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.

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