02/08/2012 04:13 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

From Profit Pools to Talent Pools

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

You've heard that one before. Apparently, Henry Ford never said it.

He did say: "Any color... so long as it is black."

Henry Ford represents for the 20th century, much as Steve Jobs does for the 21st, the romantic notion of the genius inventor-entrepreneur, who takes the path less travelled to give the world the things it never knew it needed.

Few businesses are built on such strategies.

Starting with General Motor's notion of "a car for every purse" through to today's utopia of the customer-centric organisation, business' strategies have pursued profit pools -- quantifiable pockets of profits linked to what customers want, how many of them there are and how much they'll spend.

This central role in the commercial thinking of every business has given rise to the $30 billion market research industry.

For many, it is akin to a religion.

Not for much longer.

In an age of rapid change, unpredictable competition and user-driven innovation, expect businesses to become less obsessed with unstable profit pools.

Expect business to become much more obsessed with talent pools instead.

Talent pools are the powerful networks of creative talent that can think and work their way through any economic condition, social problem or customer need and then create useful things that people choose and use.

Once again, the big beasts of Silicon Valley are there already. They think about talent pools and they're waging an incredible war to create the best ones. Expect that war to only become more intense and more widespread.

Today's clever businesses understand that talent pools overcome the unpredictability of revenue by anchoring organisations around the people, places and purposes that drive -- rather than just respond to -- the evolving needs of consumers and society.

Talent pools are about people

As First Direct knows, eschewing the traditional call centre concept and instead creating a new type of job where camaraderie, pride and autonomy have allowed them to deliver one of the world's most exceptional levels of customer service.

They are about places

As Pittsburg knows, reinventing itself from 19th century steel giant to 21st century talent centre and a great place to live, means it thrives while similar cities around it crumble in the face of ferocious change.

And they are about purpose

As Skype knows, galvanizing its people to "break down barriers to communication" and in so doing built one of the few brands in the world that matter to the rich and poor alike.

Talent pools don't ignore the customer. Far from it. Instead, they tap into the universal need we have to do something useful with our lives, and liberate a network of employees, partners and even customers around a powerful and driving thought.

Talent pools go beyond an acknowledgement that you need the best talent to achieve your strategic objectives. They are your strategic objective.

With 80 million baby boomers about to retire and only 40 million Gen Xers stepping up, according to PwC, it's already constraining a lot of businesses, especially globally.

Building and facilitating talent pools will be the defining leadership and management challenge of the coming years.