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Danny Southwick | UPenn Psychology PHD | GRIT Expert | Former NFL Pick | MBA
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

When Danny Southwick first signed with The Oakland Raiders, one of their highest-ranking scouts told him he had the talent to make it in the NFL. Yet, when he met the Quarterback’s coach, Southwick was told the exact opposite. How could two foremost experts have such different opinions on his talent? After a successful career outside the NFL—training under psychologist Angela Duckworth—Southwick realized there were so many different definitions of talent that using the term did more harm than good. Talent terminology is linked to lowered motivation, reduced spending on employee development, and decreased grit. To rise to the unprecedented challenges of our current time—a global pandemic, an economic recession, and a racial reckoning—Southwick shows us how to pivot from talent, towards developing organizational grit.


“Are we mistaking situational advantages for talent? And are we overlooking what happens when we spend time practicing the right way?”

— Danny Southwick

People picture a lot of different things when they hear the word talent—some imagine a fixed and innate ability, a gift, that you’re either born with or you’re not. Others see something variable, something which can grow, develop, and strengthen over time. Danny Southwick asked, are there consequences to such an important term having such different and indeed opposing definitions from person to person? And if so, how are they affecting the success of companies and organizations for whom finding and developing top talent is absolutely crucial?


In funny and insightful talks Southwick shares compelling evidence that much of what we think of as “innate talent” is really a combination of strategy, focus, and environmental advantages, and offers actionable strategies for focusing their communication, avoiding the talent trap, investing the right resources, increasing motivation, and developing the in-demand skillsets needed to succeed right now and over the next decade.  


Southwick is a doctoral student, studying under Dr. Angela Duckworth, in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on practice, expertise, and people’s perceptions of talent. He is particularly interested in understanding the mindsets that facilitate optimal learning. He has a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of California at Irvine and was drafted to the Oakland Raiders in 2009.

Speech Topics

What’s Wrong With Talent? How to Ditch the Buzzwords and Develop Essential Organizational Skills
People talk about talent all the time, in important ways with major implications for your company, but when we start to try to define talent, things get murky—some people see talent as an innate gift, others see it as something which can be grown and developed. Tom Brady, for example, doesn’t consider himself talented—to him, his success comes from being consistently focused on a single, clear goal.
Danny Southwick has spent most of the last decade studying how people and organizations define talent and what the consequences of those definitions may be. He shares compelling evidence that much of what we think of as “innate talent” is really a combination of strategy, focus, and environmental advantages. In his clear, actionable talks, Southwick reveals how people and organizations can avoid the “talent trap” and develop the skills needed to win in the 21st century. People can increase their passion and perseverance by identifying their top-level goal and developing plans and habits to turn their goals into reality, he says. A leading thinker on the role of grit in organizations, Southwick provides clear takeaways about how organizational leaders can craft cultures of grit, rather than getting bogged down by talent terminology.