May 21, 2004 spout

Strengths and Weaknesses

Friday, May 21, 2004

I took a Gallup questionnaire and 3-hour seminar on the philosophy of strength-based development. The central idea is to identify one’s strengths and concentrate on those. This is opposed to general thinking which says that you should work on your weaknesses. According to Gallup, no one can really change their weaknesses much, but if you focus on your strengths, you can really make a difference in yourself.

As evidence of this claim, Gallup sites a study of teaching speed reading to average and above average readers. The average readers started at 90wpm and the speed reading course increased their speed to 150wpm, an increase of 67%. The above average readers started at 350wpm and increased by more than 800% to 2900wpm. Or, to put it another way, it was 10x more effective to concentrate on a strength than to try to improve a weakness.

The dark subtext of the strength-based point of view is that if I can’t really fix my weaknesses, then I can only really do well in certain kinds of ways. I don’t like this idea. It sounds too much like fate, which just pisses me off because I don’t like the idea that it’s my nature and not my effort that determines how well I do at something.

When I mentioned this to one of instructions of the seminar, she looked at my strengths and said, Oh, I see why you want to think it’s you that governs how well you do,” which didn’t make me feel any better. My strengths, in order, are Achievement, Command, Communication, Learner and Intellection. In other words, I like to get things done, tell people what I think, learn new things and think about them. This set of strengths wasn’t really a surprise, but here’s one: I think DevelopMentor was speed reading for my particular strengths. DM was an environment that encouraged all of my strengths and I stumbled onto it by pure, dumb luck.

On the other hand, before DM, I wasn’t nearly the Communicator that I am now. In fact, I think it would’ve been one of my weaknesses had I taken the Gallup questionnaire 10 years ago. And if that’s the case, I would have been discouraged from spending too much time working on it by, for example, teaching, presenting at conferences and writing courses, articles and books, which I think would’ve been a shame, because I really love to write.

So, while I like the idea of concentrating on one’s strengths, I still don’t like the idea of ignoring one’s weaknesses.