Imagine you’re considering two final candidates for a job. Both possess top-drawer talent, which is what you’d expect at this point if their resumes are the remaining two on your desk.
Candidate A is refined, smooth, and versatile. If you needed him to start today, he’d be up to speed and produce with minimal training. If you improved the rest of the surrounding talent in your workplace, Candidate A could become a star.
In contrast, there’s something disconcerting about Candidate B. You see how it could all go wrong if you opt for him – but that’s not what’s nagging you. It’s that his talent leaves you wondering if three years from now you’ll look back on your decision and conclude that you settled for less by taking Candidate A.
What Candidate B lacks in experience is compensated by a singular talent that not only jumps off the page, it grabs you by the neck and squeezes until your eyes bulge from their sockets. Candidate B carries more risk and he may never do everything as well as Candidate A, but he has the potential to do one thing so well that it could elevate the performance of your team’s surrounding talent.
Many organizations would take Candidate A and not look back. However, it is not that that clear cut.
A decade ago, I knew several people who worked for one of the top hospitality organizations in the world. This award-winning company’s philosophy on hiring placed a priority on talent over experience.
“Experience often means you spent more time ‘doing it wrong,’” one director told me. “We would rather hire someone with the basic talent for the job, the capacity to learn, and a personality geared to excel. The last two things we can’t teach. So when we spot it, we know we can teach the rest.”
There’s something appealing about this philosophy, but you have to know how to spot these behaviors beyond an interview. I believe the Baltimore Ravens have this perspective. Before NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah worked with the Eagles, he talked about his time with the Ravens in his old podcasts.
I remember him mentioning that one of the qualities Baltimore sought in players was a comfort level with – and penchant for – hitting. If it wasn’t there, they weren’t interested.
I believe the Steelers also have this on their list of fundamentals a player must possess. If these teams discover they were wrong about that player later on, he won’t last long with either team.
But an organization has to have a strong understanding of what they can and cannot teach a player. If they don’t possess this knowledge of what is and isn’t teachable – or worse yet, they lack these teaching skills as a staff – then you have what the Oakland Raiders are trying to work past with some of its personnel decisions.
This philosophical quandary underscores the difference of opinion that I bet a few teams may have when considering the talents of outside linebackers Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo. Both are exceptional athletes, but despite playing the same position these two are as Robert Frost once wrote, “two roads diverged in the wood.”
The consensus prefers Jordan, who is the more experienced and versatile of the two. The question is whether Mingo – a player with higher risk-reward potential – represents to one NFL team what Frost meant as, “the road less traveled by will make all the difference.”