“Skills determine if you can do something, whereas talents reveal something more important: how well and how often you do it.” This quote comes from Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s book Now, Discover Your Strength. The authors take us on a fascinating journey visiting three domains: talent, knowledge and skills. Since 1988, Clifton’s StrengthFinder (now called CliftonStrengths 34) is one of the main sources of data for Gallup. The concept is not new; however, this particular theory of finding and focusing on your talents and strengths is less known, especially since the education system (among many) constantly points to the weak points rather than to the areas of high achievement. Of course, if we hone in on just talents, other functions may suffer. Our talents are not independent of each other or our skills. Each talent needs the support of less prominent aspects of our unique personalities.
What I like about the StrengthFinder theory is the notion of uniqueness, the patterns that are naturally occurring in behaviours. The fact that some of the skills that we use (or don’t use) to acquire knowledge—an experience—fade away matches what Daniel Schacter writes about memory. Paths to experiences or bits of wisdom that are not utilized on a constant basis fade away. Like a field covered in snow where you can see footsteps and overtime, as the traffic to new information pockets increases, the old paths become less visible. The information is still there, but we have a hard time to get there. It explains why sometimes we have a feeling that we know something, it is so close, yet we can’t get it out – the path is hidden.
In 2002, the American Psychological Association honoured Donald Clifton with a Presidential Commendation as the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology. Although his work is well known and books are bestselling, there is, as with everything, some reservations about his approach, claiming that it focuses too much on a person’s style, which is not exactly a strength. I still find it convincing.
“Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strengths.”
It doesn’t mean that weaknesses should be ignored. It just means that the path to achieving success lies not in the areas that you are not good at, but those where you excel. Clifton organized personalities into 34 distinctive profiles. Of course, it will be hard to imagine that we all can be tagged with one of those themes. It is impossible. But if one can choose 3 to 5 different archetypes, then it is more likely that a resemblance of a person can be achieved.
Skills play an essential role in this approach. Skills allow us to perform tasks, fulfill our duties and collaborate with each other. Without skills, working knowledge, the expertise can’t be met. As I mention in many of my posts, some skills take a lifetime to develop. Some can be acquired in just a few hours. Some build upon a set of pre-requisite skills, while some come just out of the blue. Are those still skills or should we call them talents? And if we do have a talent, what skills support this natural ability? There is even a bigger question we all can ask:
What talents do I have, and how to find them?
Buckingham and Clifton suggest we look at:
Rapid learning – is this coming naturally to me while some struggle with it?
Satisfaction – do I have a sense of accomplishment after completing the assignment. Obviously, we all have a feeling of relief once a task is completed. Relief is different from a filling, good, happy and content.
The ability to repeat a task – can you do it again? With the same level of professionalism, attention to detail, level of competency? And feel good upon completion? If yes, that’s a talent for you.
They also list yearning – longing to do something is another sign of a possible talent. As always, the reality we will probably see a combination of those hints that may point us towards our strengths.
Although at TeamFit we do not focus on talent per se, there are pathways and intersections where skills management forms a “border object” – a shared space where both approaches can benefit from each other. For instance, the self-assessment allows the user to note a sentiment on how one feels about the application of a certain skill. On the other side, the team is asked by the system to confirm the claim and level of competency. This alone is a strong talent indicator. TeamFit encourages users to claim skills in a general sense, but also to connect skills to projects and roles. The project team will be able to assess the level of competency. If repeating a task at a constant level, or steady improvement, is a signal of a unique ability or a talent, then skill data from multiple projects is another tool to measure talent.
With changes to how we work, I don’t think there is an organization that can afford to ignore the need to understand their people. Call it People Analytics, Talent Management, or Skill Management. From recruitment agencies to the internal HR departments, regardless of motivation, everyone is trying to understand the workforce better.
No matter what you do, in your professional capacity or private domain, everything requires skills which enable you to complete the job. Whether it is baking a pork shoulder—I did it last weekend, with prunes, onions and apples—or preparing an online pricing excellence survey for a government organization, skills applied to the task contribute to your experience. The experience allows you to take on more complex tasks or simply move up your career. As for the talent, some people have incredible talents and trying to find specific skills may not net much – on the other hand, some are talented as well, but they support their strength with skills. Regardless, knowing your skills is a good thing and a first step in the right direction.
Understanding the skills you have and the skills you need shouldn’t be so hard.
TeamFit can quickly and precisely give you the skill insights you have always wanted.
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