You Have So Much Potential

If you were MENSA eligible, would you join the organization? For me, the answer is a resounding NO. The main reason is… it would screw with me, and it would hinder my ability to have relationships with normal people. See… normal people. WTF. If you’re smart, turns out, you know it. Having an outside, third-party objective organization tell you that you’re smarter than everyone else would be crippling for me. I’d rather be lucky than smart. Or both. Smarts alone doesn’t mean anything. If you’re smart, you still have to do something with it—you have to channel it in some way. Think about it for a moment… would the MENSA card in your wallet help or hurt you? This of course gets me into Gifted and Talented programs.

Okay, this is going to hurt for some of you people: Enrolling your kids in Gifted and Talented programs is freaking stupid.

I’m not saying you’re stupid… I’m saying the act of enrolling them in these sham programs is. Take a moment to let the rage set in. Okay, here’s why: Little Jimmy is smart. On this we can agree. He probably got it from his mother, by the way… but that’s another story for another day. He’s smart. And, in his current academic situation, he’s not challenged. He’s running circles around the “normal” kids. I mean, he’s got them working for him he’s so smart. So you decide to rip Little Jimmy away from Gen Pop and label him Gifted and Talented for the rest of his life. Let’s stop here for a moment. Getting your kids into Gifted and Talented programs is more about you and less about your kids. Truth hurts, but it’s the same reason you monitor Little Jimmy’s playing time at first base. You care; he doesn’t… he just wants to chew purple bubble gum.

Let that sit with you for a moment. How much of this (G&T) is really about Little Jimmy? Gifted and Talented programs are currency that parents use with and against each other. My kid walked when he was 4 months old, my kid talked when he was one month old, my kid read the entire Bible over the summer, my kid does advanced trigonometry for fun… my kid is in the Gifted and Talented program at our school. Game, Set, Match. My kid is smarter than yours. Drops mic, walks off stage, gets a Slurpee. And this type of interaction happens more than you know. Trust me.

So, why would I attack Gifted and Talented programs? Well, really, I’m not… I’m commenting on parenting. That aside, if Little Jimmy needs to be challenged then find ways to challenge him or better yet… get Little Jimmy to find ways to challenge himself. Also, never label your kid smart or stupid for that matter. If they’re smart, turns out, they’ll know it soon enough. They’ll also not be entitled. Gifted and Talented programs come with an air of entitlement. You’re smart enough to be in this program, you’re smarter than everyone else… life should be easy… shit should just come your way. And, as we all know, life don’t play that way. You have to work your butt off for everything you get AND be lucky. Hashtag grindtime.

Which gets me to High Potential programs at worky work. High Potential… High Performer… A Player… all those terms are freakin’ stupid. Again, if someone is lucky enough to be one of these things… they tend to know it. So, should we identify our most critical staff (define that as you wish)? That would be a resounding HELL YES. Should we find out what makes them tick? Hell yes. Should we provide whatever the hell they need for them (and thusly us) in order to be successful? Hell yes. Should we put them into a program and tell them how smart they are? F#$# NO. These programs should be clandestine in nature. We know who they are—they should never know. They should never think they’re the future of the firm. That’s for many reasons but here’s a few:

(1) It sends the wrong message to the normal people,

(2) The folks in the program will feel (rightfully so, I guess) entitled, and

(3) You might be wrong… they might not be the right people to lead the firm in the future.

Let’s deal with last point for a moment. Just because one thinks they are a good speller, and you think they’re a good speller, doesn’t make them a good speller. Turns out, Microsoft Word makes them a good speller. I jest of course. The point being… these Gifted and Talented programs at work are hopeful but often times they get it wrong and unbeknownst to them… the ripples are felt elsewhere in the organization.

Let’s get back to Little Jimmy. He’s smart. Hopefully he’s ambitious, as well. At work, you want to retain the services of Little Jimmy. Fair enough. As we all know… 80% of the value of a firm comes from 20% of the work population… and Little Jimmy is one of those dudes. Got it. Then do your homework and be relentless in making sure Little Jimmy has WTF he needs (compensation, perks, titles, staff, projects, etc.). No labels, no special treatment, no entitlements, no butterfly effect (in case you got it wrong)… just Little Jimmy adding value… and he’s probably pretty happy to boot.

Silly side note for me: The word “potential” is a teen and twenties term—it’s laden with optimism and hope. But once you hit the age of 30, the word “potential” is a backhanded compliment. Meaning, why the hell haven’t you reached your potential yet? Are you stupid? I thought you were in the Gifted and Talented program?! Remember that the next time you use the word or the phrase: You have so much potential.

FOT Background Check

William Tincup
William is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s written over 200 HR articles, spoken at over 150 HR & recruiting conferences and he’s conducted over 1000 HR podcasts. William prides himself on being easy to find on The Internet, Google him and connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Not up to speed in the social media game? Reach out via email. William serves on the Board of Advisors for Talentegy, Wellocity, GlitchPath, Talent Ninja, Universum Americas, Engagedly, Echovate, VibeCatch, Continu, Hyphen, Bevy, Happie, RolePoint, Causecast, Work4Labs, Talent Tech Labs, and SmartRecruiters. He was previously an advisor to PeopleMatter (sold to Snagajob Q2 2016), Good.Co (sold to StepStone Q1 2016), Smarterer (sold to Pluralsight Q4 2014) and a board member of Chequed (merged to create OutMatch Q3 2015). William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


  1. kd says:

    and another thing… Facebook used by the same set of parents is a game of constant one-ups-manship to do what you described in the middle of the post… Of course, it’s set to the backdrop of “picture sharing”, but it’s really “we are great” and if you want to hang, you better bring out the nuclear arsenal of achievement.

    BTW, it was great to see Jimmy have a great time at the bible school/math and science invitational camp. I only mention that because I’m sharing this picture. Just enjoy the picture, don’t focus on the crazy achievement. I meant to share the picture only, and now… Well, I’ve said too much…


  2. kd says:

    PS – nice MENSA tease for your kids… Have you no shame?

    “…since I’ve been forced to ponder the inclusion of my offspring into MENSA…..”


  3. Paul Hebert says:

    My kid – paste eating champion of the 3rd grade – three years running!

  4. Jim Durbin says:

    There’s some truth here, but there are some mistakes.

    Schools regularly change his out, but the thinking behind accelerated and Gifted programs is important.

    Basic programs teach the basics. They’re slower, and require less work. Gifted and advanced children in these classes are horrible for the classroom, because they get the highest scores and do the least amount of work, which has an impact on the kids who aren’t as quick.

    Advanced classes are great for pushing the students to their potential. You work very hard in these, and move quickly, forcing you to focus on the work. Gifted kids struggled in these classes, but it’s good for them to be in them because it teaches them that smarts ain’t all of it.

    Gifted classes are designed around the idea that the children actually learn more from each other than they do from the teacher. Having children like this in other classes stunts their growth, but also creates disruption for the other students. It’s important to note that Gifted doesn’t mean better – as Advanced Kids often get more out of their classes because they do work so hard. And if you’re hiring out of high school, Advanced kids are much better to hire than Gifted ones because they’ve learn structure.

    And that brings us to high potential programs at work. Adults are not children, and we tend to mistake “education” or “charm” for high potential, but there is a difference between an average worker, an exceptional worker, and an exceptional leader.

    Back in the days of McDonnell Douglas, when companies planned their futures by the decades, identifying talent and moving them up the ranks was pretty important for the company. You didn’t want to lose your best people, and you wanted the best out of them as many would work for you for decades.

    So there is reasoning behind it that is sound. The question is whether the programs are deficient, or if the reasoning is no longer relevant.

    But you can’t treat your best employees the same way that you treat your average employees. Or rather, you can’t treat employees with different sets of skills the same way, because you get mediocre results.

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