Rawlins Gilliland: Natural Vs. Applied Talents | KERA News

Rawlins Gilliland: Natural Vs. Applied Talents

We’re all good at one thing or another, but said talents aren’t always recognized or appreciated. Here’s a commentary from Rawlins Gilliland.

Much of my life, I’ve watched the tug of war between what I call instinctive vs. applied talents.  For instance, my parents were both musicians; Dad a successful big band bassist, mother a Julliard graduate classical pianist.  Whereas Dad never learned to read music but was a natural at jazz improvisation, Mother read music fluently but could never play by ear. One was taught technique to develop their ability into a polished craft.  The other resisted structure and used their indigenous gifts to create a unique career. 

I grew up believing that each skill set was equally valid.  Or so I thought until I entered the working world where the ongoing wrestling mismatch is formulaic analysis versus free-range artistry.

In the luxury apparel business, I rose to Director through the sales force rather than executive training.  So my fluency was product intuitive in an atmosphere where MBAs could spin numbers like a disc jockey, but few had an intrinsic familiarity with the female customers we serviced and/or with what they bought and why.  I generally felt the largely male academics felt superior because I wasn’t savvy at financial projections. But I could spot when a line of women’s apparel was short-waisted or short in the stride and, therefore, what might be a short sell.

Predating the current national craze of hiring consultants, an erudite guest “expert” at a conference played a cryptic Power Point study ‘showing’ that customers ‘invariably’ preferred navy blue to black. Says who and where?  Today, as a retail industry consultant myself, I combat generic voodoo.  But for many, it’s their one-size-fits-all stock in trade.

I once quipped in a satiric essay that finding good bagels in Dallas was less likely than locating great enchiladas in Tel Aviv.  The professorial editor changed Tel Aviv to Cairo, explaining that he’d studied the psychology of humor, learning that, “words beginning with ‘C’ are funnier”.  This man couldn’t grasp off-the-cuff irony since being clever was not in his lexicon. Yet, as a tactician, he believed he could dissect wit.

Along these same laugh line lessons learned, a tenured Wall Street scribe was once challenged by his organization’s management focus groups to make dry financial reportage more "amusing."  What followed was a dismal stream of awkward efforts falling flatter than papier-mache' trucks at a demolition derby.  He blogged in his final column that people don’t ‘realize how hard it is to be funny’ to which I commented that perhaps being "funny" might best be left to those to whom humor comes naturally. He naturally took offense.  

Look.  As a clueless monetary moron, I’d been a faithful reader until his externally prompted editorial format change crashed in blames. I’m no expert stock option, but this man demonstrated that when a grounded talent impersonates a live wire, it’ only sparks disaster.  Like a blind date with an inflated doll - that’s leaking.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.