Can you grow? Pt. 2

As alluded to in my previous post, I discovered the power of adopting a growth mindset when I approached new challenges and difficult tasks. Over the past few years, it was tempting to say this is the key towards unleashing each person’s inner talent. I thought it was the solution to everyone achieving better grades, cultivating healthier relationships, excelling at a sport, or drastically increasing productivity at work. If only it were that easy… This idea was challenged when I was introduced to a seemingly contrasting concept that suggests what seems to be the opposite – playing to your strengths.

For my Master’s program, I am required to complete an internship for one full year. I was able to apply, interview, and be selected for a position at a local community college where I serve as a Success Coach towards incoming new students. During this summer, before the school year begins, I have been participating in training sessions that will help me better help others. Several years ago at Grand Rapids Community College, I was inspired by my advisers who invested so much time and effort into my case. This experience planted a seed of desire to do something similar for others – whether it be guiding, advising, or coaching. This makes my internship particularly fascinating.  One particular training exercise my boss had me do was the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0. If you have taken a personality test, it functions similarly, however this is much more rigorous and backed by a significant amount of research.


The StrengthsFinder foundation is built on the strengths-based perspective that has become increasingly popular in research. The research argues that we have historically approached solving problems with a deficit-based perspective. For example, we look at dysfunctional, inefficient, impatient, counterproductive teams (or individuals) and pick apart all the bad things about the way they do work. They’re too sloppy and overlook things, they create only short-term solutions, they lack communication between each other, or they act impulsively without asking permission. However, the strengths-based perspective would put aside the things they do poorly and focus on the things they do extremely well. Or one could reframe the deficit-based perspective in a positive way. For example, maybe these workers would excel in emergency situations where a short-term solution is needed quickly in order to buy time for a longer-term solution to be developed.

strengths quote

In any case, this is the underlying premise of the StrengthsFinder. The quiz asks you to answer questions with options you most closely identify with under 20 second time restrictions to encourage answering with your gut, not your head. Depending on your responses you will be assigned 5 strength-based themes (of 34 possible) that you are strongest in. My themes are 1) Belief 2) Relator 3) Individualization 4) Discipline and 5) Connectedness. I am sure these seem rather abstract and meaningless to the reader, but explanations of these themes are included in your post-quiz report. I assembled a summary of how to work with someone with my themes; you can find it here.

The quiz was disturbingly accurate, and I don’t think it is in the “self-fulfilling prophecy” way. It has made me more aware of these areas of my life and I now recognize when I am behaving in accordance to one of my themes. My boss wanted me to take this quiz because it would help her identify the strengths I have as a member of her team. She could then assign me certain tasks she saw would fit my strengths the best.

don clifton

This seems to contradict, in part, the growth mindset concept I introduced in my last post. This idea suggests that we should ignore areas where we lack skill and finesse and instead just focus on what we area already good at. Instead of striving to improve my “woo” theme (meeting new people and winning them over; i.e. salesmen), I should mostly ignore this, and focus on “relating” and “connecting”  with others. I am tempted to think the growth-mindset interpretation would say that assertion is wrong. I can improve my “woo” theme because our talents are not innate, but malleable. Where do these two theories intersect without colliding into another mess of faux psychology? Is it in the nature of the task/skill? Perhaps the StrengthsFinder focuses on personal qualities and characteristics and growth mindset could be better applied to physical skills – sports, writing, public speaking, art, work, etc? I just could not seem to put my finger on where these concepts can coexist without contradicting each other.

If you, the reader, have any ideas, please feel free to educate us. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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