Talent & Talent Management with Lie to Me

Talent & Talent Management with Lie to Me


What is it all about?

Lie to Me is a television series based on the work of American psychologist Paul Ekman who is known for his studies on microexpressions. Dr. Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) is a specialist in body language, sort of a human lie detector, who has spent years learning about the way our body conveys our emotions and today he uses this knowledge as a consultant. While I am a fan of non-verbal communication theories and tools, this article will be focusing on another topic.

What do we see in this scene?

The scene starts with Dr. Lightman honing his skills by training with a facial expressions recognition software. The purpose of this training is to help him catch microexpressions much faster. Then his new employee Torres joins the conversation and is invited to try the test. This whole scene is designed to compare natural talent with scientific knowledge. Later on we will watch another scene that explains it a little bit more.


We’ve defined in a previous post that talent is a special and often innate ability to do something well. In the context of work, the concept of talent becomes more ambiguous and for most consists of individuals who can make a difference to organizational performance either through their immediate contribution or, in the longer-term, by demonstrating the highest levels of potential (source: CIPD). In this regard, talent management differentiates itself from competence management and high potentials as we will see later on.

What is interesting about this definition is that it puts the stress on result and time, and these two are what we are going to study today.

Wizards and Sorcerers

We all have heard of famous Harry Potter; but if I ask you whether he’s a sorcerer or a wizard, what is the difference between both and if you actually care… then I might get very few answers. And yet, this analogy and questions are far from being innocent.

The difference between both was introduced with the role-playing game (rpg) D&D which created both playable classes. While this may seem a nerdish example to use, rpg’s have always been trying to adapt existing skills, competences and also talents in their world and create new ones. Therefore, comparing our reality to a game is not that unearthly.

Sorcerers and Wizards have a battle of their own with many blog posts written about the topic, with this one probably being the shortest and easiest to understand.

In (very) short, a sorcerer is a natural who doesn’t understand how magic works, and don’t really care about it, but can wield it freely and effectively. On the other hand, the wizard is taking the academic path to understand what magic is and how it works. With time, as his expertize in the subject increases, the wizard becomes more powerful and efficient than the sorcerer.

How does it relate to the scene?

Cal Lightman is a wizard who studies emotions and microexpressions for over 20 years. He developed the whole theory and knows it better than anyone. However, he wasn’t naturally able to read these expressions and required a lot of training before achieving this result. Torres, on the other hand, is a sorcerer who never had to learn any theory and is naturally capable through intuition to read people’s feelings.

As Loker (another employee) perfectly explains it in the next part, Torres irritates Cal for she can do what he learned to master just like that. Back to the other example, we could compare Harry the sorcerer to Hermione the brainy wizard.

The Wizards Project

The Wizard project was a research project led by Paul Ekman and Maureen O’Sullivan that studied the ability of people to detect lies. They defined a “Truth Wizard” as a person who can identify deception with an accuracy of at least 80% and found out that approximately 0,25% of the population are part of this category. Ekman’s mission became then to teach and transform people into Truth Wizards; which ironically would mean to access the same skill-set as Torres the sorcerer…



Great, and what do we learn from all that?

The real question concerning the magic wielders or emotion readers is not about which class is better. Both of them have their advantages and each becomes more efficient with experience and depending on the context. The question should rather be: when we have both, how do we use them?

If we go back to the original definition of talent, we will say that the only talented people in our examples are Torres and Harry. They both have an innate ability that makes them very efficient at what they do, whether it’s wielding magic or reading microexpressions.

When we actually watch the tv series and Harry Potter movies, we notice that both Lightman and Hermione are the most adept characters. They are more versatile, less hot-headed and use their knowledge and understanding to solve more complex cases. Lightman and Hermione are also talented people. Only very few manage to succeed in learning quickly new spells or develop complex theorems. It requires strong intellectual aptitudes, passion, determination and other traits which help them succeed. Albert Einstein used to say that genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work; and therefore, talent is not necessarily what it may seem and time may impact the perception we have of talented people.

We’ve observed that all these people are highly capable and talented and that context or at least perception defines if someone is talented or not. Going back to the definition of talent within a professional context we see that performance and time are related and a person can be groomed into becoming highly performing in the future or when needed. We can therefore ask ourselves what is better: have an effective talent today or build one for the future?

Within the human capital strategy of a company, there are two approaches to talent management: inclusive and exclusive. The inclusive approach considers all employees as talents thus engaging and providing development opportunities for all. The exclusive approach on the other hand, segments talent according to need and focuses on high potential individuals (people who are expected to take a leadership role in the near future). While most companies use a blended approach, focusing on one or the other shifts the company’s culture.

Inclusive strategies will invest in all employees whether they are sorcerers, wizard or servants. We all have our unique talents, may we know them or not and we all can evolve each on his own pace. Where we all have talents, it may take time to find which they are, if they’re relevant and how to tap into it or continue perfecting it. An analogy would be to have a national football team (or Quidditch) coach selecting a strong (rather than best) fit for each position and make sure that all the team members play and improve together. Of course it’s a little bit more complex than that. Talent evokes individuality and creativity or uniqueness and not all players are equally talented, which means that the coach must know each player very well. He has to find out what is the unique talent of each individual and how to make it work with the rest of the team; which is fine within a small team, but not in a global company. Some HR specialists believe that to perform that way, all managers should take the role of coach and lead inclusively.

Exclusive strategies would on the contrary invest as much as they can in the top 5% or 10% of their workforce; those who they consider high potentials and deem irreplaceable. This would be the coach who will focus 80% of his attention on the couple of stars he has in his team. While a team with all-round strong players may be effective, having one top star in the team can make the difference.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said:

The selected strategy is a choice and must be congruent through all the steps (recruitment, development, retention, succession…)
What is important to mention is that the strategy will depend on the type of business and time perspective. Do we expect quick results or do we prefer to see gradual improvements. this brings us back to the flow theory we talked about in this post.

Dr. Foster, who is a psychologist and Lightman’s partner, takes the roles of HR responsible within the company. She understands well the situation and realizes that by pairing Torres with Lightman she creates a symbiotic mentoring relationship. Torres can learn from the experience and vast scientific knowledge, whereas Lightman can further improve by experiencing a working relationship with one of the 0,25% possessing an innate ability – someone who is supposed to be the epitome of what he tries to teach.

The whole “Lie to Me” team is built on highly capable people, each with his own unique (and sometimes strange) personality traits, idiosyncrasies, competences and talents. Dr. Foster in her HR role tries to leverage this and create a work environment that develops synergies. She has an inclusive approach to talent management. Lightman on the other hand, is more focused on the exclusive side as he only accepts to work with the best and excepts from them to give their fullest from the start.


While there are several definitions for talent and talent management it really starts with the approach we have. Do we consider every member of the organization as a talent which is part of a larger pool or do we prefer to focus on the distinction and segregate between good and talented (or high potential). Based on the approach a company will give a different meaning to talent and the way it manages it. Some want sorcerers and others require wizard. Some want both of them to work together and finally you have those who wish both to learn from each other.

What I personally appreciate about this scenes is that they show that talent management is not just a subset of management, but should be considered as an important component of leadership. The way a leader considers talent will influence his leading style.

So, which talent manager are you?
Or do you know any specialists who can help us learn more about talent management or lies detection?


Related training and consulting companies

Non Verbal Academy
Detego Group
Ekman International
Wide Circle
Gloabl NLP


Interesting links

Bersin – High Potential or HiPo
How to Identify Human Capital Centric Companies During Your Job Search
Inclusive Talent Management – The Definitive NHS Guide for
Making it Work in Your Organisation

Inclusive Talent Management – Comprehensive Implementation Handbook and Toolkit
L&D strategy: exclusive or inclusive – what gets the best return?
Talent Management research – Tilburg University in cooperation with Accenture


Find your Talent with Eugene

Find your Talent with Eugene


If you’re watching the series The Walking Dead and you haven’t seen episode 5 from season 5 yet, please be aware that this scene shows an unexpected twist!

What is it all about?

The walking dead is an American post-apocalyptic horror drama television series based on the comic book of the same name. The show tells the story of a small group of survivors living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. While the context (undead) is not that important, the survival genre is very interesting to study as it reflects the best and worst in humanity. When things go wrong, the quest for survival gets to be the primary objective and all the rest becomes inconsequential; that is when we can better grasp the importance of leadership and the uniqueness of each person. Today, we’re going to study a character that will show us exactly that.

What do we see in this scene?

This specific scene happens in the middle of the fifth season. Our survivors met another group which is on its way to Washington D.C.. This other group has the particularity of being gathered around professor Eugene Porter, who as a scientist worked on the Human Genome Project and knows how to solve the Walkers (undead) dilemma. Eugene Porter pretends to know what caused the epidemic, and that he is on a mission to go to the capital, where he can reverse the effects of the plague. During their ride to the capital, the group stops in front of an enormous undead herd. Not knowing how to proceed, tensions are running high till Eugene divulges the truth about his personal quest. This particular scene can be studied through multiple angles, for instance to compare Abraham’s very directive, macho style leadership to a more inclusive leadership type. We will however use the video for the more refined version proposed by Eugene.



We determined in the previous articles that a talent is an innate ability that let us do something well. A talent is a blend of competences and other abilities which is unique to each of us. Tapping into our talent(s) helps us develop skills and competences with a strong foundation. An amazing voice doesn’t make an outstanding singer, but it certainly helps. Nurturing our talents and our strengths may lead to excellence in a specific field. Having opportunities to use our talents effectively puts us into flow and what better than experiencing it in survival mode?

How does this scene relate to finding our talents?

During the conflict perpetrated by Abraham who wants to go straight through a herd of hungry undeads, Eugene decides to explain his stratagem and reasons supporting it. It helps soothe the group and bring a new important fact to the heated discussion: he’s not who he pretends to be. By telling the truth Eugene becomes vulnerable and by using his implacable logic he explains who he is, what he did and why he did it.

Who is Eugene?

Little is known about Eugene, suffice is to say that the talents he mastered in this survival from the undead context were honed specifically to survive and he provides us with a full description.

Let’s unravel his story piece by piece.

I’m not a scientist!

Eugene starts by stating he’s not a scientist…multiple times.
As explained in my previous article we tend to put a lot of stress and credibility on our professional titles – what we are instead of who we are. As such, by unraveling the fact he’s not a scientist, Eugene crumbles in one go everything people thought of him. The shock arrived and quietness followed… In order to have people following him, Eugene had to create a plausible scenario for his mission. Being a scientist gave him an aura of credibility and trust. People put trust in the intellect and the capacity of a scientist to come up with solution they can’t. A scientist is educated and has vast knowledge in a specific field – he’s an expert. Whereas scientists are already uncommon today, they become a rare breed and important resource for our survival when 99% of the population has gone for good. If people are the most important resource, scientist and physicians are then indispensable. Selecting the right label or title to use in a specific context can thus bring you very far.

I just know things

This is where Eugene starts talking about himself. By stating he knows “things” he delivers a message with a double meaning. Eugene distorts the meaning of “knowledge” by expressing this sentence in a degrading way. He diminishes his position by saying he “just” know things and therefore can’t be as good as a real scientist. And yet, at the same time he states that he actually has vast knowledge in topics that may be less relevant in day to day life. To obtain a lot of knowledge, one must invest time and have the intellect to not only memorize, but also understand it and know how to use it – and this is where we get to the second part.

I know I’m smarter than most people.

It’s actually not hard to figure out that Eugene has a very high IQ by the way he talks. His speaking rate, intonation, patterns, complexity, structure and logic all indicate he is indeed more intelligent than most. Eugene knows it and realizes that by combining it with his general knowledge he can easily influence people and sway them to his side. At the same time Eugene is aloof and seems to lack empathy like many highly logical people. Though this is a stereotype and Eugene could also be affected by an emotional or behavioral disorder, based on the scene we can indeed discern his difficulties to relate to others emotionally. While this would normally be perceived as a weakness, it actually strengthens his image of very smart scientist.

I know I’m a very good liar.

Here we come to a more pragmatic part of his skill-set. While intelligence and knowledge can be measured, they remain rather abstract concepts. Lying on another note is an actual verb of action which is directed outwards (though one can lie to oneself); which means that Eugene has done it more than once and has a tracking record of success.
Being a highly logical person, Eugene analyzes every step, every part of his actions and other people behaviors and therefore, when he says he’s a good liar, not only does he believe so, but it also is highly likely to be true.

I want to survive

We all want to live, that’s at least biologically true. Some people however want it more than others. Whereas true leaders will often put their life on the line to save others, Eugene is the opposite. His value for his own life stands much higher than the rest and his survival instincts guide his decisions. There is no shame in that. Most people don’t really know how they would react in a case of high emergency, Eugene knows that he comes first and plans vehemently to succeed.

If I can cheat some people to take me there

Cheating is influencing and influencing may be seen as a form of leadership or at least having control over someone. By putting his morality aside and focusing all his energies on survival Eugene learned to cheat people and as the saying goes It aint cheating til you get caught.

I’m a coward

Knowing one’s weakness helps build strength. By fathoming his cowardice, Eugene can put the stress on the aptitudes he requires to compensate. He’s weak, he has limited communication skills and he’s a craven. By sharing a lie about him being a “savior” without any spiritual or religious connotation, he brings hope and provides a way out for his companions.

As stated before, we don’t know much about Eugene’s past. While his personality traits and skills should have been the same, it is possible that his strong will to survive has pushed him to go and do things he wouldn’t do during his normal life.

So, what is Eugene’s talent?

By analyzing his monologue step by step we managed to find a couple of skills and personality traits that make him stand out. However, none of them are actual talents. Moreover, none of them are related to leadership and yet he became a leading figure in his group. Not due to his leadership abilities, but due to his label – the “all-knowing savior” aura he created.

Eugene’s magic is that he can read the flow, not only his flow but also his surrounding flow. By analyzing almost instantly the situation, relating it to multiple possibilities, he knows where to be or what to do. He has a unique thinking pattern that combines convergent thinking, divergent thinking and systemic thinking and that is why the group decides to keep him even after all what has happened. All these converge to another single talent which is make-belief. Eugene is astounding at making people believe that something is real when it isn’t. A capacity to lie on something very complex and keep it real long enough for others without flinching. This resembles to the capacity of a leader to come with a vision that will inspire others. Of course we all have our limits and during this scene his fear took over forcing him to stop the charade. By being honest about who he is and why he did what he had to do, again he managed to sway almost everybody to his side. Did he do that last part on purpose? I’m not so sure, but then again, that’s his magic and what kept him alive long enough.

What can we learn from Eugene?

Finding out about our own talents is not easy and often requires firsthand experience. Wikihow provides a simple yet exhaustive list of actions to explore your natural abilities and find your innate talents. Many other websites provide a list of steps that may help find our talents and strengths, so what is so special about Eugene?

Eugene, through his monologue, adds some important details:

1. Know your strength and weaknesses which include physical and mental skills, competences, as well as personality traits and more importantly, learn to embrace them!
It’s hard to embrace a strength you have and don’t like and it may be even harder to embrace a weakness, and yet this is what makes you you. French writer Jean Cocteau used to say:

2. Be mindful, take the time to realize what’s happening around you and inside you at a given moment. Learn to measure the pro’s and con’s of a given situation as it will help you develop awereness about your perception and your possible actions. Be aware as Jean-Claude Van Damme would say.

3. Get out of your comfort zone. Talents are often found when experiencing something unexpected or that we never thought we’d like doing. Travel, go to places you’ve never been before, use different transportation means, try cultural experiences and mingle with different groups. Strangers may notice things about you that your close relations can’t. You never know when your eyes will open. Don’t fear expressing you talents, and learn to tame them. Benjamin Franklin said the following:

4. Realize when you’re in a state of flow. It often means you’re doing something you’re competent at and that you like. Not only Van Damme, but also Bruce Lee said wise words: “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” If you’re talent is being like water, then find out how you become the teapot and what it makes you feel.

While many websites suggest using online tests and quizzes I have a very hard time believing any one of these can help you discover a talent. Rather than that, they can help you find strengths and weaknesses, preferences, personality traits but talents are too personal to be discovered by standard questionnaires.

Eugene’s personality is a complex one and though I wrote my personal opinion about him, some of you may perceive it differently? If so, what would be your take on it?

How about you? Would you have suggestions on finding our talents? Or maybe you can share a personal experience in finding your our own talent?


Related training and consulting companies
Gloabl NLP
Wide Circle
Geerkens Consulting
Inside Out Coaching & Training
Tangram Management


Interesting links

How to become a more inclusive leader
Inclusive leadership excellence club
National urban fellows
Organizations lacking inclusive leaders
Ken Robinson at TED