Talents and Talent Themes

Ok. So, I opened the proverbial can of worms, yesterday. When I brought up all those words and their definitions, I will acknowledge that I may have introduced more confusion than I helped. Sorry about that. Let me back up just a little today and try to clear something up.

Yesterday I defined “talents” as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied.” This is essentially straight from Gallup. I didn’t make it up. It may not be exactly word perfect, but it’s pretty close.

I also defined “theme” as “a similar group of talents.” Again, that’s from Gallup, more or less.

But, so what? What am I really talking about?

Keep in mind that Gallup has spent almost 60 years studying people, their success, and how they can be effective in their chosen industry, walk of life, or experiences. Through the course of their research they identified thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of talents people possessed. They defined talent as that which came naturally to people. It was a way they just naturally thought about things. Or it was the way they just naturally felt about what was going on around them. It could even be their natural ability to do things.

The key was talent was what people naturally thought, felt, or did. They didn’t have to “work at it,” or “struggle,” or “dig deep” to think, feel, or do. It just happened. Now, the degree to which they were good, or effective, or successful at those things depended, according to Gallup, on how much they had invested in them. That is, how much they had acquired additional knowledge around those talents, or how much skill they had developed in relation to those talents. So, it was possible to have talent – a natural inclination to think, feel, or do something – without necessarily being masterful at it. Mastery came through additional knowledge and skill.

So, what about “themes?” Well, themes were nothing more than a way to group similar talents together. Remember I said that Gallup identified thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of talents? Well, when talking about them all, it’s really not very useful to talk about thousands of them. It’s much easier if we could categorize, or group them, under a fewer set of labels. Hence the term “theme,” or “themes.”

For example, it seems some people are natural-born storytellers. Others seem to be naturally gifted at speaking in front of hundred, even thousands, of people and inspiring and motivating them into action. Still others come across as tremendously capable of writing really, really well. Each of these are different talents. Yet, they are also easily recognized as different forms of communication. So, we could categorize them, or label them, under one similar theme, “communication.”

In Gallup’s research they took the thousands and thousands of talents they had identified and they grouped them into 34 different “themes.” Thus, we have the 34 themes of talent, sometimes referred to as 34 Strengths. But, if I say it that way, I would be misspeaking. (See yesterday’s blog post for more details about that.)

Correcting My Language

Gallup makes it easy to talk about Strengths. Once you get used to using that term, “strengths,” it rolls off the tongue without much effort. There’s only one problem: I find myself using the term incorrectly about 90% of the time.

It’s not because I don’t know any better. I’m just lazy. And, I follow the crowd pretty easily, too. Most people use the term wrong – at least most people who talk about the results of the CliftonStrengths assessment, engage people in coaching sessions to help them apply those results, and generally strive to apply the Strengths philosophy. We find it easy to just toss around the word “strengths” as if it were the right one in most cases. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Let me share some definitions and a couple of thoughts about this to try and explain. Based on Gallup’s research and the information they share about the CliftonStrengths assessment, the following definitions need to be kept in mind:

talent = naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied

theme – a group of similar talents

strength = consistent, near-perfect performance derived from applying talent that has been developed by the investment of knowledge and skill

weakness = anything that gets in the way of your success, or the success of others

Now, why does any of this matter? Well, most of the time when the word “strength,” or “strengths,” is used, what is actually meant is “talent theme.” For example, a week ago when I was writing about helping the JMU athletes strengthen their strengths, what i was really talking about was helping them strengthen their talent themes, or their talents. By definition, strengths are those talent themes which have already been developed through the acquisition and application of knowledge and skill such that performance becomes nearly perfect every single time.

I haven’t really done a great job explaining it all here, I know. It’s a bit tricky to grasp, actually. In part because Gallup named their assessment instrument, the “StrengthsFinder” when it first came out. They have since shifted to “CliftonStrengths” assessment, which is better, no doubt. Unfortunately, since I’ve been focused on it all for about a decade now, my old habits will be more difficult to break.

In truth, the name of my site, “Strengthen Your Strengths,” is misnamed. It should be more accurately presented as “Strengthen Your Talent Themes.” But, that’s far less alliterative and not nearly as memorable. So, I’ll probably stick with the name of my site and blog exactly as it is, though I will try to be more accurate in my writing and speaking.