Where’s The Talent?
One of the themes that the blog has revisited over time is the downward spiral of society toward mediocrity—a regression to the mean. The caveat is that to prevent such degeneration requires talented people to pump energy into any social system to prevent the entropic drive to chaos. Now my favorite target is always MD Anderson where once hundreds of vastly talented physicians, scientists, and administrators used to make sure Anderson really was “making cancer history” because they got up every day dedicated to making things better and advancing the fight against cancer.
It seems now that Anderson, over the past twenty or so years, has become more bureaucratic and less creative simply because the talent doesn’t seem to be there. The past leadership of Anderson had some really unusual characters, but the one thing that they never were was mediocre. Now as I look around at the leadership in place, I find them so common, so identical in their outlooks, so cautious in their decisions, and so non-visionary, that mediocrity is ineluctable.
I think the same is true in our national politics. I shudder to think what our great leaders of the past would have thought of a match for President between the two leading contenders currently thought to be heading for a fall showdown next year. I can imagine Abe Lincoln asking, “is this the best you can do?” only he would have been more eloquent.
But look at our corporate leaders like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. Are these really examples of great talent? You kind of wonder how they made all that money. Maybe they got lucky and it was better to be lucky than good.
And any country that makes “Rich Men North of Richmond” a hit song really needs to think hard about its criteria for excellence.
The only place I am fairly sure that talent continues to rise to the top is in professional sports. The Astros are having an okay season largely due to a raft of injuries and a certain lack of pitching talent compared with the staff of last year, even though many of the same guys are playing. In baseball, the talent tends to rise and the Astros may have just started on a roll in Arlington. The same is true in the NBA and NFL. That’s why sports are so popular. In a world where most popular entertainment is meh, there is still P!nk and Taylor Swift to make you know what real talent looks like.
I worry a lot about this in medicine as well. My encounters with the medical system lately have been mostly as a patient where I have fared pretty well, although a recent bout with an immunostimulatory skin cream to fight my sun-damaged scalp has proven debilitating, my doctors have managed to keep me pieced together thus far. My observations in my capacity as a board member of a local non-profit clinic has been more concerning as I watch younger physicians be less attentive than I fancied I was when it was my turn to provide clinical care. I am deeply concerned that the best and the brightest talent is forgoing careers in medicine and the talent remaining in medicine may not be as great as it used to be.
I think we all want to believe that talented people succeed because of their talent, but we know that politics can play an even bigger role in who ultimately gets to the top. I am not sure when mediocrity began to dominate the corporate and academic worlds, but I know the country cannot stand to make this the norm.
Eliminating the talentless from the corner office will require that the demand for excellence not be diminished. Demand the best of your leaders and don’t vote for the talentless even if they appear to be the only choices. Ask for better.
Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:
on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,
directly from the publisher Dorrance at: https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/conflict-of-interest-money-drives-medicine-and-people-die-pb/m