I am a Strengths Coach and I firmly believe that exceptional creativity and expertise is demonstrated only when you are working in your strengths zone.
What do we mean by strengths? Gallup defines Strength as “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity”. This is distinguished from Talent, Knowledge or Skills required to perform well that activity or in that domain, and even from Investment or Commitment to that particular activity or domain.
To make it simple, lets take a (self-reflective) example ; assume the activity is niche blogging in the domain of leadership development. What would exceptional creativity and expertise look like: would a blogger be able to cement his / her reputation by a just one blog post that went viral; or to be acknowledged as an expert blogger he needs to consistently churn out viral posts on a day -to -day basis? Also the blogging ‘strength’ or muscle is developed over the years due to following factors:
- Talent: The blogger simply has a way with words or is naturally gifted in simplifying and communicating lucidly complex concepts . Perhaps he has the ‘communication’ theme as one of his signature themes as per Gallup CSF assessment. Also, maybe growing others and developing them comes naturally to him, aka he has ‘developer’ as one of his Gallup CSF themes, which provides him an undue advantage when developing leaders .
- Skills: Perhaps he has practiced writing on a daily basis and words come easily to him when he sees a blank page/ screen; he need not suffer from writers’ block because he has made writing daily a part of his routine and has practiced the craft of writing beautifully and eloquently well. Maybe he has attended multiple creative writing workshops that have enabled him to acquire the writing skill. Equally important he may have spent time facilitating leadership development (his niche topic) and has some practical skills and experience related to that domain.
- Knowledge: The blogger perhaps has a lot of knowledge about how to blog, how frequently to blog, when to blog to drive traffic etc (this is knowledge related to blogging) ; he has perhaps a lot of knowledge related to his domain of leadership development too that gives him material for his posts on a constant basis.
- Investment/ Commitment / Diligence : Perhaps the blogger is doggedly determined to make best use of his writing/ leadership development talent by investing systematically in learning and acquiring skills related to the same .
Only if all the four factors come together in the same blogger, will he have a chance of him consistently producing almost-always-viral posts.
The above can apply to performance in any domain, be it dance or music or academics or sports.
Elucidating the process further, what we note is that instead of falling in the trap of whether expertise and creativity is elicited from Nature (Talent) or Nurture ( acquired Skill/ Knowledge) or Effort (Investment/ Diligence); we need to take a holistic approach where innate factors (about which we can’t do much) like Talent may also be important and agentic factors (which are more or less in our control) like Commitment and Diligence may also be important. Similarity, expertise will typically constitute of some ratio of learned knowledge and some practiced and acquired skills.
I consider Talent as an Aptitude to Learn and Practice in a domain; Skill as the sum total of (experiential) Practice in the domain; Knowledge as the sum total of (at times theoretical/ cerebral) Learning in a domain; and Diligence/ Commitment as an attitude to Learn and Practice in a domain no matter what the odds.
So real Strength consist of having the right aptitude and the right attitude towards learning and practicing in a domain to provide consistent near-perfect performance.
We can summarize it with two equation:
Expertise/ Creativity = Developing Strengths and being in the Strength zone
Strength= Talent x Skills x Knowledge x Diligence.
The above also correlates with my ABCD model whereby Talent is innate like Affect; Skills is more Behavioral in nature; Knowledge is Cognitive while Diligence relates to Motivation/ Drive.
So if you want to develop your strengths muscle don’t stop at just identifying your talent; after identifying your talent, acquire skills and knowledge related to the domain and become passionate/ committed about mastering that domain.
As as Strengths Coach, helping the client discover his talents is just the first step: then comes the long path to encouraging the client to become passionate, skilled and knowledgeable about his chosen domain of excellence.