Secrets of Talent

I am reading “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham. While I agree that focusing on what we do well rather than trying to fix our flaws and become well rounded is useful advice, there are a couple of basics he’s really missed the boat on.

Firstly he mixes up types of people, attitudes and behaviors and calls them all strengths. Secondly, he insists we are born with these talents and can’t change them.

Just because you do a survey – admittedly a very comprehensive one through the Gallup poll machine, doesn’t mean the results are valid and never changing for individual people

Just because training such things as attitudes or identity type behaviour has a low success rate, doesn’t mean fundamental behaviours can’t change.

Recent research into brain plasticity (for example “The Brain that Changes itself”) backs up what NLP has always claimed – how changeable our brains really are. That doesn’t mean if you logically decide you want to change a behaviour that your unconscious is going to come on board.

One of the major strengths of the NLP models is they look at the structure of behavior rather than it’s appearance. If you want to learn empathy you need to know about the structure of empathy. It involves a second position shift. It cannot be taught by giving reasons why empathy is importance, or all the productivity and persuasion opportunities having this as a skill can open up.

Modelling a skill takes a real mind leap. Training traditionally only models observable behaviors. At what the person does or says – content. It doesn’t say “what do you do in your brain when you are able to predict how someone might react to something? What are you seeing, hearing and feeling? What are the qualities (submodalities) of those thoughts?

Good spellers for instance see the word they want to spell in their visual remembered area (usually top left). When they see a word spelled correctly, they get a good feeling and when it’s spelled incorrectly, they get a bad feeling. Teaching this strategy enables someone to develop the skill (they still have to code the words of course) Having students recite words robotically or sound out words, does not reproduce the skill.

So the author of this book concludes that skill training doesn’t work. Not because it hasn’t been de constructed correctly or the structure is not being taught, but rather some people have a talent for it, and some don’t.

So while focusing on our strengths, rather than the education system’s focus on fixing our flaws, empowers us to do our best, sometimes it’s more important to take our foot off the brake rather than keep trying to accelerate. The art is knowing when the lack of skill holds us back, and when we can get around it.


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