“My Name is ‘Sue!’ How Do You Do!?”

Have you ever looked around the office and considered the untapped potential in the room? Too often, organizations categorize employees by putting them in boxes according to their assigned functions and forgetting to consider their complexities. When we talk about people, especially in terms of recruiting, we refer to “talent” without recognizing that many among us are multi-talented!

Here’s a famous example that few people are aware of:

Shel Silverstein & the Transference of Skill

For a generation or more, kids have been delighted and entertained by the poetry and illustrations of Shel Silverstein. We read his books to our daughters and today they read them to their kids. When we think of Silverstein, we remember “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” but his legacy is more complex than that.

Did you know that Shel Silverstein was also a songwriter? In fact, he wrote perhaps one of the most iconic songs made famous by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue” (here they are performing it together on The Johnny Cash Show). 

Silverstein’s talents as a storyteller enabled him to excel in many different mediums. As a member of the Outlaw country movement, he was in the company of such luminaries as Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. For a peek into the story behind the song (and the revelation of the real-life “Boy Named Sue”), check out this quick read from KXRB.

Multi-Faceted Talents

Silverstein’s story is a reminder that the people around us have skills and dimensions that can be taken for granted or swept under the rug. How many people in your organization appear to be Shel Silverstein, the children’s book author, but have another side to them that you’ve never considered? When we consider the untapped potential of the people in our organization, we make space for their talents to bloom in unexpected and powerful ways. When we allow people to excel at more than one thing, we can recognize the true depth of their talents.

The startup concept of “running lean” encourages organizations to consider how the talent base of their employees can be harnessed to create maximum success. Many companies fall into the trap of looking externally for “talent,” assuming that their current employees cannot deliver what is needed. Shel Silverstein’s multi-faceted legacy should encourage us to rethink those assumptions!


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