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