America Needs Talent by Jamie Merisotis – My 6 Lessons and Takeaways

Jamie Merisotis
Jamie Merisotis

I’ve just finished reading America Needs Talent: Attracting, Educating, & Deploying the 21st Century Workforce by Jamie Merisotis. I’ve prepared a synopsis of this book for a national conference of philanthropy professionals. I hope you enjoy this article, and find it useful. (And then, I hope you read the book).

Mr. Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation, is truly qualified to write this book. The concerns he raises and wrestles with have made up his life work.

I begin my synopsis handouts with thoughts on why a book is worth our time. Here’s what I wrote about this book:

#1 – The United States is slipping on many fronts (as compared to other parts of the world; and, as compared to our own past capabilities). This is of great concern.
#2 – There are measurable deficiencies and shortages. And the number one deficiency is a shortage of talent.
#3 – And, that shortage of talent is the talent within our people.
#4 – This book provides tangible steps to implement to alleviate this shortage of talent.

This premise of this book is clear – we are slipping, even failing, in the talent department. We are failing to identify talent; to develop talent; to utilize talent.

So, what is talent? From the book:

(talent is) …a gift, or an ability that can benefit the common good.
Talent is a reflection of the synergies that result when individuals acquire a mix of capabilities that lead to prosperity in their careers and personal lives—synergies that not only impact them as individuals, but all of society.
Talent requires tacit knowledge, like a performance that’s difficult to write down, visualize, or transfer directly from one person to another.

This is an optimistic book, a book that points to great days that are still ahead – if! we find and develop the talent of our people.  Again, from the book,

America needs talent now more than ever.


Talent can be broken down into two categories: innate and inherent abilities, and those than can be cultivated through training and education.

America Needs TalentHe provides and elaborates on five key ideas, the “five ideas” in the book:

  • First: higher education.
  • Second, private sector innovation
  • Third, the federal role in talent development and deployment
  • Fourth, a new immigration model
  • Fifth, reimagine our cities as hubs of talent

I recommend this book — it is worth reading, for a lot of reasons. Here’s one: we have a lot of people with undiscovered and/or underutilized talent, and if we do not find ways to unleash their talent, it will hurt them, our country, and our society.

We’ve got to get better at putting talent to its best possible use.

Here are my lessons and takeaways from this book:

#1 – We have to develop talent “across the board” – especially providing talent development for those raised in lesser-income circumstances, and the “underserved” among us.
#2 – We have to recruit and accept people with talent from wherever they come from. We are truly in a global competition for talent.
#3 – We have to urge Congress to act on creating a more welcoming path on immigration because of the talent needed.
#4 – We have to redesign our thinking about learning (and, then, our system of learning) – it’s about capabilities and skills learned (and accurately measured), not hours spent in classrooms… (The 3 hour credit class is an antiquated approach). (And, we should establish “The Talent Trust,” a student & employee-driven pool of money for long-term learning).
#5 – We have to expand the possibilities for talent development. (consider: museums; libraries).
#6 – We need to establish a new “Department of Talent.” — We’ve got to champion (and demand) collaborations. (“Connect the dots” is not just a law enforcement/terrorist concern).

Neither this blog post, nor my synopsis, would be adequate to grasp the full issues that this book raises. So, I recommend that you add it to your reading stack, and move it up near the top. You will benefit, and maybe our country will also.


Note: though this was not a selection for the First Friday Book Synopsis, I will record my synopsis, and make the recording and my15minbb150 synopsis handout available soon on our companion site, If you want a quick, yet substantive, treatment of the best business books of recent years, check out our synopses. I think you will find them to be worth your time.


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