Do You Know Your Strengths?

Most of us have a poor sense of our talents and strengths, yet are acutely aware of our weaknesses and flaws.
Throughout the education system and subsequent careers, there’s often been much more attention paid to how to improve and fix our shortcomings rather than enhance our strengths.
“Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer.” – Peter Drucker, management expert
Parents, teachers, and managers are well versed in spotting deficits. In fact, most people – partners and spouses included – consider it their duty to point out our weaknesses in the hope of helping us improve.
As a result, most of us have become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives either trying to fix these flaws or accept them as permanent character defects.
Consequently, our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by focusing on our strengths, rather than trying to correct faults.
Over the last decade, coaching and leadership professionals have been placing greater emphasis on developing personal strengths. The goal is to help individuals work with what they have and build on their natural talents.
Large corporations like Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota, and Yahoo now require that employees take surveys measuring talents and strengths. Their CEOs recognize that company success depends on leveraging what already works instead of trying to fix what’s broken.
Cultural Differences
A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese, and Chinese people of all ages and backgrounds this question:
“Which do you think will help you improve the most: knowing your strengths or knowing your weaknesses?”
The majority of people don’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths.

  • The most strengths-focused culture is the United States, but still only a minority of people–41 percent–felt that knowing their strengths would help them improve the most.
  • The least strengths-focused cultures are Japan and China. Only 24 percent believe that the key to success lies in their strengths.

Interestingly, in every culture older people (55 and above) were the least fixated on their weaknesses. Perhaps they’ve acquired more self-acceptance and realize the futility of trying to be what they are not.
A Focus on Faults
Why do so many people waste time trying to fix themselves and others’ Weaknesses are fascinating and strangely mesmerizing, like watching characters in soap operas and on reality TV shows. The attraction lies in the fact we deeply fear our weaknesses, our failures, and even our authentic selves.
The human brain is wired to pay attention to fear and danger. However, if you do not investigate your strengths you will miss out on becoming who you are really meant to be.
Strengths vs. Weaknesses
Often a strength can be a weakness, and vice versa, a weakness can be a strength. Here are some characteristics to watch for in yourself and in the people you work with.
(Sources: Peter Urs Bender’s Guide to Strengths and Weaknesses of Personality Types, &
Brinkman, Rick, and Kirschner, Rick (2002), Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill.)
Do you recognize yourself as fitting into any of these general personality types? Can you identify your strengths? Are you able to see how they can also turn into weaknesses?
The Courage to Use Your Strengths
Most of us take our talents for granted. They are so embedded in us, we aren’t aware of them. We assume everyone else is just as capable.
This way of thinking excludes developing and becoming stronger and more brilliant. You can’t develop what you don’t recognize.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure” We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous”? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher
The first step for self-improvement is to identify your strengths. offers a free online strengths test, and the book StrengthsFinder2.0 includes the Gallup assessment. Several excellent books can walk you through the self-assessment process:

  1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
  3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)
  4. Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2013)

Once your five top strengths are identified, you can examine how they manifest – in your life. It may be easier to develop your strengths by working with a professional coach. A coach can help you to identify your talents and strengths and then work on expanding them, putting them into deliberate practice with action steps.
Discovering your strengths is the path toward personal improvement and success. When you pay attention to your deficits and try to overcome them, you over-emphasize your weaknesses. You wind up living a second-rate version of someone else’s life rather than a world-class version of your own.

The Future of Work: 5 Skills for the Robotic Age

The challenges of 21st-century work – rapid innovation, unrelenting change and unprecedented uncertainty – have created a stress pandemic.
Depending on your disposition, you may view the future as ripe for a spectacular explosion of creativity or poised on the brink of self-destruction. Either way, there’s no going back.
The tools and skills we’ve developed over the last century inadequately address imminent challenges. We’re caught between two paradigms: a collapsing industrial platform and an uncertain new one.
Man vs. Machine
In February 2011, the IBM computer “Watson ” trounced two Jeopardy! champions over a 3-day competition. Watson’s cognitive-reasoning skills were far superior, with access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content (4 terabytes of disk storage, including the full text of Wikipedia).
Even before Alex Trebek finished reading a clue, Watson’s 2,880 parallel processor cores began to divvy up the workload. At 33 billion operations per second, they could search 500 gigabytes of data (roughly 1 million books) in the blink of an eye. Watson could also hit the buzzer in less than 8 milliseconds.
During the 3 seconds Watson took to deliver a correct response, various algorithms worked across multiple processors to return hundreds of hypothetical answers. Watson was programmed to hit the buzzer only after reaching a 50% confidence level. By the end of the game, Watson had surpassed previous champions’ winnings by almost 200%, easily becoming the first nonhuman Jeopardy! champion.
In February 2013, IBM announced that Watson’s first commercial software application would be used for utilization management decisions at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ninety percent of nurses who use Watson now follow its guidance.
This is an example of how robots, machines and computers will ultimately take our jobs. We must harness our creative energy in new ways to stay ahead of the “robot curve”.
“Help! A Robot Ate My Job!”
If you haven’t yet heard this complaint, you will. Today’s widespread unemployment is not a jobs crisis; it’s a talent crisis. Technology is taking every job that doesn’t require a high degree of creativity, humanity or leadership.
In times of rapid change, success favors those who can make big leaps of imagination, courage and effort. The call for new ways to work will become even more pressing.
10 Areas Ripe for Innovation
The Doblin Group, a Chicago think tank, has identified 10 areas where innovation can deliver competitive advantages:

  1. The business model: how a company makes money
  2. Networking: including organizational structure, value chain, partnerships
  3. Enabling processes: the capabilities a company buys from others
  4. Core processes: proprietary methods that add value
  5. Product performance: including features and functionality
  6. Product systems: extended systems that support the product
  7. Service: how a company treats customers
  8. Channels: how companies connect offerings to customers
  9. Branding: how a company builds its reputation
  10. Customer experience: including the touchpoints where customers encounter the brand

Think of problems as opportunities to find worthy and inspiring solutions. In Metaskills: 5 Talents for the Robotic Age, business adviser Marty Neumeier encourages leaders to use the following questions as inspiration points:

  • What’s the “either/or” that’s obscuring innovation opportunities?
  • In which areas do the usual methods no longer achieve predicted results?
  • What’s the “can’t-do” that you can turn into a “can-do”?
  • Which problems are so big that they can no longer be seen?
  • Which categories or sectors exhibit the most uneven rates of change?
  • In which area is there a great deal of interest, but very few solutions?
  • Where can you find too little or too much order?
  • Which of your talents can be upscaled in some surprising way?
  • Where can your passion take you?

5 Skills for the Robotic Age
We need to stay on top of the robot curve – the constant waterfall of obsolescence and opportunity fed by competition and innovation.
Neumeier presents five metaskills that – so far – robots cannot handle:

  1. 1. Feeling encompasses intuition, empathy and social intelligence. Humans draw on emotion for intuition, aesthetics and empathy – skills that are becoming more vital as we enter the robotic age.
  2. 2. Seeing is the ability to think whole thoughts (also known as “system thinking”). We understand parts of a system when we appreciate their relationship to each other, rather than in isolation. Before tinkering with a system, we need to ask:
    1. What will happen if I do nothing?
    2. What may be improved?
    3. What may be diminished?
    4. What will be replaced?
    5. Will it expand future options?
    6. What are the ethical considerations?
    7. Will it simplify or complicate the system?
    8. Are my basic assumptions correct?
    9. What has to be true to make this possible?
    10. Are events likely to unfold this way?
    11. If so, will the system really react this way?
    12. What are the factors behind the events?
    13. What are the long-term costs and benefits?
    1. Dreaming requires you to apply your imagination. Innovators transform their dreams into practical solutions. You dream by disassociating your thoughts from all that is linear and the logical. Like most things, dreaming improves with practice.
    2. Making involves mastering the design process, including skills for devising prototypes. Creativity is nothing without craft. The act of making something turns imagination into brilliant products, services and successful businesses.
    3. Learning is an ongoing process. We must continually master skills to adapt. We then apply our newfound knowledge in innovative ways. Learning is enhanced through good moods, action and emotional experiences. We become masterful through deliberate practice.