Talent – on its own – means nothing. This is true in most walks of life, but it is especially true, I have found, in the world of digital marketing/SEO/social media. It is an industry where you get found out pretty quickly. However, it is also an industry that has a lack of employees with experience, so (for some bizarre reason), those with talent that offer little else keep getting jobs on the ‘digital agency merry-go-round’. They get on the roundabout (as in getting a new job as an SEO or whatever), shine brightly for a few months, and then ultimately their lack of effort (including lies about what they have been doing) and (usually poorly-formed) personalities are found out…so they move on again – sometimes days before they are pushed.
Here are some tails of people I have met through my years working in and around the digital sector that have either been blessed with talent and been abject failures, or those that were passionate, but did not work hard enough to study which would have made up for their lack of talent.
But first, have a look at this gif that I made of a YouTube video that has inspired me for over ten years now. It is Pavarotti singing ‘Nessun Dorma’.
One night many years ago, I was looking for the best performance of the song. I came across this excellent version (the video I linked to is a new version of an old video I watched), and it was mesmerising. It was great, even by Pavarotti’s standards. There was something magical about it.
And then, just after the song finishes, Pavarotti makes a face that I have not seen any other person make in my whole life – or indeed Pavarotti himself make. I watched around 200 Pavarotti performances to see if he pulls the same face. He doesn’t.
Is there a coincidence that this performance was when ‘The Three Tenors’ as they were called (Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras), were brought to the world’s attention. They had of course been famous – but this new fame was something way beyond each of their previous recognition. Pavarotti was at the peak of his career – and his fame. He had taken his huge talent, worked incredibly hard, and his voice – and performances of opera – were his passion. The perfect trifecta for success. I happen to think that micro-second of a facial expression was genius in physical form. Genius being the combination of those three things (talent, passion, hard work).
Please take a minute to watch the embedded gif again on this page (a few times) and look for the face that Pavarotti pulls at the end of the song, around one second after he sings the last note. I have personally watched this clip thousands of times (literally) – sometimes a hundred or more in a row. I have seen nothing else like it – and it gives me the greatest amount of inspiration. I feel like I can do anything after watching it.
Anyway, back to my examples of people that have decided for one reason or another that the talent they were born with need not be matched by passion (in the correct discipline), or hard work.
Let’s take ‘Dave’. Dave was/is probably in the top two most talented SEOs that I have worked with in my career (around 20 years now). At a young age, he understood not just the technical elements required to become a great SEO, but also understood how to explain how things work to non-SEOs such as colleagues and clients. It is very rare that anyone in an SEO role is a 10/10 in both of these disciplines (SEO and the ability to work very well with clients).
However, Dave’s mind was elsewhere. It was spent on rugby. Every single day. Many times a day. It was all that he spoke of. It was also what he spent most of his time surfing on the web during work hours. The signs were there all along. Dave was a nice guy to get along with, and enjoyed office ‘banter’. Yet he couldn’t concentrate on what he was getting paid for. Dave’s lies came crashing down on him, eventually.
No matter how talented someone is, if their mind cannot be focused on their work for significant, contiguous periods of the work day, they will ultimately be of little use to a business – and indeed, as was Dave’s case, very costly, too. Usually, as was the case with this one, ‘Dave’s’ tend to leave under a cloud, and things can turn nasty. No matter how much you tell them that if they do not change, they will move from agency to agency, tarnishing their reputation, they do not listen. In Dave’s case, he is now on his SEVENTH agency in about four years. I could have written his career path for him and it would have been 90% correct. The sad thing is that Dave is worth about £50,000-£60,000 in today’s market, yet earns less than half of this. As I said at the very beginning, talent – on its own – means nothing.
When you take someone talented and they portray that everything is OK, you tend to believe them, and have confidence in them. This is the mistake of many agency owners. It is one that I have made several times, and could possibly make again.
In terms of natural talent in so many disciplines – digital-related and not – no one comes close to Micky. This guy literally could have been successful in a creative role, as a writer, as an actor, as an entrepreneur, as a musician, as a entertainer, as a comedian, as a critic, as a dancer, as a children’s TV presenter…well, almost anything. He was/is that talented.
When someone works in several roles within a business – “he didn’t seem to fit role x, and role y, but he might fit role z”, you had better get worrying – this is NOT going to work out. This was the case with Micky. A helluva fantastic person to be around in a social setting, but like managing thirteen small toddlers when in an office environment. As talent versus effort goes, I doubt that I would encounter someone for the rest of my career that has these two so far apart from each other.
The thing is that Micky had passion, and he had some great intentions, but when it came to the crunch, he failed to pull through just at the moment you needed him. On the odd occasion that he did, amazing things happened. For way too long, because Micky was a friend (a bad friend for the aforementioned reasons), Micky hung around, eventually becoming somewhat of a mascot of the business. In truth, he should have left many years before he eventually did.
In many ways I miss Micky, because someone with such talents and a (sometimes) amazing personality, is a fantastic sidekick, but jobs as a sidekick only work when the sidekick does their own thing too. I still expect Micky to turn up one day on TV, or even become Prime Minister, but with his present mindset, he is destined for a life in very poorly-suited roles earning minimum wage, which is a very sad thing indeed.
Colin has zero talent. But Colin has amazing passion. However, Colin’s effort suffers because he simply would not learn anything new.
I can live with zero talent. Passion and hard work is sometimes enough for some roles. On a side note, some people think that I am talented. I am not, I am just more hardworking, and more passionate than anyone in the same room as me (that is always my intention, anyway).
Ahem, back to Colin. He refused to learn anything new about SEO that happened after 2004. Before this date, Colin was a real success, with several clients performing way beyond what they had spent on SEO. However, as Google algorithms improved, Colin failed to keep up – perhaps because he could not absorb any more – and eventually, Colin’s skillset became not only redundant, but downright dangerous. You see, when effort is misplaced, it can be something that has a very negative affect on whatever is being worked on. No where is this more apparent than in SEO tactics.
Colin still works in SEO, but in roles that – like Micky – are much less than what he could be doing if he only found a better mix for the talent-passion-effort trifecta.
What have I learned about Dave, Micky, and Colin?
The first thing to note is that I have worked with several of each type of person in this post. As you get older, you see the same type of person over and over, despite them thinking that they are unique. I have seen many-a-‘geek-arrogant’-SEO, many a tortured writer, many a neurotic social media expert. What you should do, if you are in the position of employing or managing such people, is to get rid as soon as possible IF you think that there is no way that they are going to improve.
Don’t think I’m some kind of tyrant – I love nothing more than moulding and coaching people – especially younger people that have not come from the industry – but there ARE people that will never put in the effort or will never have passion for the role that they are employed in. I miss out talent here, because I think that there are many roles where you can get by without someone having to be super-talented. Some of my best ever colleagues have had little talent, but have had amazing attitudes to work, and put every piece of their sinew into it.
You may be someone that thinks that you should only do the bare minimum to get by in a role, using phrases like “I do what I get paid for and that’s that” and so on. That’s OK, there is room for those people in most companies. Just don’t complain when you don’t get a pay rise, or a promotion, or are the first to have to leave when there are redundancies. People owe it to themselves, not to their boss, or their partner, or their children, to work hard, and not do the bare minimum.
If you do have talent, PLEASE make sure that you use it wisely unlike Dave, Micky and countless others. It is a short time on this earth, so work hard with what you were so lucky to be born with. There are very few better feelings than to be employed for the thing that you enjoy doing. This is the case for me, and could be the case for so many people in and out of the digital marketing sector. Live with passion, and work bloody hard – no matter your level of talent.
One of my very favourite quotes is from George Lois, who says,
“If you don’t burn out at the end of each day, you’re a bum.”.
I’ll end on that note – a ‘bum’ note!