The Now Discover Your Strengths Chapter book is the foundation for the philosophy behind the tool. This book is primary source material from Donald Clifton. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. The chapters delve into the differences between a theme/talent/strength and give a number of examples as to why there is a distinction. It covers the origins of CliftonStrengths© , what it is and what it’s not, and the philosophy behind it as well.
Let’s cover some key highlights from Now Discover Your Strengths. The main one is that we are raised in a deficit-based world, we’re just born into it. I look back at it now and I really feel the effects of it from my past. I was branded as lazy, and I can be but that’s not the full story, it doesn’t explain why I was considered “lazy”. I would hear things like, “Adam does not apply himself.” What they didn’t say is, “he seems like he isn’t applying himself because his themes are not into doing the same thing over and over again in, say, Math class. Give him one problem and he’s bored and ready to move on to the next concept.”
Branding someone with a deficit-based title just doesn’t not do a good job of helping them understand their fit with the world around them. It boils down to this: Focusing on weakness is best when survival is at stake because of a weakness that must be addressed. But, when survival is not under threat, focusing on strengths is the only thing that leads to thriving. Dr. Clifton introduces 3 Revolutionary Tools. First tool focuses on distinguishing what is natural/innate about you (talents) from things you can learn (knowledge and skills). You can’t really learn talents. I can’t take a course and suddenly become responsible. I could become more mindful of being responsible but it won’t be natural as it would be for someone with the Responsibility theme who has been practicing it her entire life. Talent is very different from knowledge that I can learn, or skills that I can practice. So it is important to identify what is innate about us vs. what is external to us. Our talents are innate and until we have a way to see them, they are invisible; hiding in plain site all this time. Distinguishing talent from knowledge/skill is the first tool. The second tool is designed to help make what was invisible (our themes of talent) and making them readily apparent. This is what the CliftonStrengths© does. It takes the 34 most common themes that Dr. Clifton discovered in his studies of successful people and then provides a way for us to determine which themes are our most dominant. I think it’s helpful to understand what Dr. Clifton believed to be the signs of the presence of a talent:
The third tool is common language to describe talents (34 Themes): Dr. Clifton wanted us to have as rich of a vocabulary for what can be great about people as we do for what can be wrong with people. He realized that in order to focus on strengths, instead of deficits, we need to language that articulated positive qualities and a methodology to develop them further.
CliftonStrengths© is not only a lexicon of 34 talent themes. It’s also a vocabulary of development. What I’m getting at here is that we cannot just intermingle the terms “themes” (or themes of talent) and “strengths.” In order to develop, we must understand the insights he tried so hard to communicate. My worry is that his message hasn’t quite taken hold. So, I want to make this very clear by pulling direct quotes from Dr. Clifton’s work. Please, think about what these passages reveal about the relationship between themes of talent and strengths:
(p. 25) “The definition of a strength that we will use throughout this book is quite specific: consistent near perfect performance in an activity. By this definition Pam’s accurate decision-making and ability to rally people around her organization’s common purpose are strengths. Sherie’s love of diagnosing and treating skin diseases is a strength. Paula’s ability to generate and then refine article ideas that fit her magazine’s identity is a strength.” [Strengths are activities, not themes]
(p. 29) “We introduce you to three carefully defined terms:
Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior. Your various themes of talent are what the CliftonStrengths© actually measures. [CliftonStrengths© measures talent—or themes of talent, not strengths]
Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned.
Skills are the steps of an activity
These three—talents, knowledge, and skills—combine to create your strengths.
For example, to be drawn toward strangers and to enjoy the challenge of making connections with them is a talent (defined later in the book as the theme “Woo”), whereas the ability to build a network of supporters who know you and are prepared to help you is a strength. To build this strength you have perfected your innate talent with skills and knowledge. Likewise, to be able to confront others is a talent (defined later as the theme Command), whereas the ability to sell successfully is a strength. To persuade others to buy your product you must have combined your talent with product knowledge and certain selling skills.
Although all are important to strength building, of these three raw materials the most important are talents.”
(p. 31) “We suggest you take a close look at knowledge, skills, and talents. Learn to distinguish each one from the others. Identify your dominant talents and then in a focused way acquire the knowledge and skills to turn them into real strengths.”
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