What Are You Great At?

Last week I finished reading “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by the Gallup organization, which Niniane recommended. It came up over coffee that, this year, I’ve been learning things I saw as weaknesses. She had recently read this book, and thought I should do the opposite: focus on building my strengths even stronger.

Turns out I think she was right. And so was I.

The book’s based on this excerpt:

Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide […] and only one-third ‘strongly agree’ with the following statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

And they also lay out interesting correlation stats. For instance: if you can agree to that statement, you’re 3x more likely to say you have an excellent quality of life in general. So I’m testing this hypothesis.

As part of the book, you take an online test that has you answer 180 questions very quickly, to get your gut reaction. Each answer matches you behind the scenes with 32 common threads of thinking, which they found in those 10 million interviews, and which they call your ‘strengths.’ You get your top 5, with details and suggestions on how to get even better.

But the biggest thing to me was that they never talk about skills, which is what I had been focused on. For instance, I’ve developed lots of web apps, but hadn’t set up apache to run my own server. So I did. And that’s fine. (It’s actually related to one of my strengths, but more on that later.)

Instead, they’re focused on persistent patterns of thought or action. For instance, you might be a ‘people person’. But maybe that means you feel at home in a room full of strangers and meeting them all. Maybe that means you develop deep relationships without even trying. Maybe it means you’re really good at convincing people of something, and you jump into those conversations effortlessly. If the deep relationships is you, but you’re not a shmoozer, that doesn’t mean you should go to a networking class (unless you’re SO bad it’s actively hurting you). It means you should find your way into using that relationship building skill in more ways. You can learn specific skills (like I’m doing) along the way, or not. But you should get yourself into situations that fit your natural patterns of thought and action.

I’m still thinking about how to do that with my strengths, so for now: What do you do that comes most naturally to you? What patterns does your mind do so well you don’t even realize you’re doing it? What aspects of life have their own positive feedback loops for you? I’ll give my answers soon. You first

2009 Resolution Recap

I want to take resolutions a little seriously this year, so I’ve been waiting to decide on 2010 New Years’ Even Resolutions for the hype to die down and make sure I really want to stick with the ones I chose. In the meantime, how about a little accountability on last years’ go (Resolutions copied and pasted from my Twitter account @staringispolite):

The Resolution:
#1 Support more web start-ups. On the list are Twitter & Pandora. Looking 4 more on startuply & yCombinator. Other ideas?

  • Continued engineering role at FreeCause.com, helped it get acquired by Rakuten.
  • Made SevenUp, an IE6 upgrader script used by 1000’s of blogs & startups around the world.
  • Subscribed to Inc Magazine and FastCompany Magazine.
  • Evangelized Twitter & Pandora. Didn’t pay for Pandora One when it came out later that year.
  • Acted as an informal technical/strategic advisor to two friends’ startups.

I really all but forgot about this resolution a month into 2008. I think I accomplished most of this list on “accident” just by virtue of enjoying it, but not seeking it out. That could be a plus really, since it was my nature and not an artificial push.. but this one was originally about becoming a paying customer, so can’t say I did great there. But all in all I’m actually pretty happy with this one. The magazines saved me, plus SevenUp & advising are arguably more important anyway.

The Resolution:
#2 Eat more food.http://tinyurl.com/8ouoz8

  • Probably 6-8 mo of high meal count days, with each meal being smaller than normal.

Grade: 70%
I did start having 5 snacks or smaller meals a day on a regular basis, at least until I left FreeCause (and thus broke my daily routine). Especially during the 300 workout with Frank, which kicked my ass for 2 months and lost me 15 lbs! Can’t say I kept this up throughout the year (or even remembered it was a resolution either) but I did do it for a significant amt of time! And I did lose weight and gain muscle over the year, so overall, this one’s a success.

The Resolution:
#3 Know less. Understand more. http://bit.ly/INWh

  • Max 1 mo of using gut feelings/understanding in cases where I’d normally use pro/con lists, etc

Grade: 10%
Not only forgot about this one, but was surprised to find it in my 2009 list! (Thought it was making its first appearance for 2010…)
The purpose was to experiment with Malcolm Gladwell’s hypothesis in Blink that your gut can make decision better and faster than your brain; and that for many situations, more data will only confuse the situation more, and at worst may actually bring you to the wrong conclusion. I failed miserably at this one until my 2009 job search, where the pro/con list approach had me going against my gut (on several different occasions actually) and I made the hard decision to trust my gut each time. I’m very happy with the decision.

The Resolution:
#4 Discover one new technology, product, website, or service every day. Today: http://www.gist.com is in private beta

  • Discovered 100’s of new web products in 2009! All are listed on my Twitter account @staringispolite
  • Started the #dailydiscovery hashtag, which the Discovery Channel even picked up! (As well as several of my friends.)
  • Didn’t keep the frequency up to one every day
  • But my awareness of the startup world, and the tools available (many of which are themselves startups) is much higher now, to the point where it can feed into #3

Grade 90%

– My resolutions last year were pathetically immeasurable from the start
– I lost focus on all but one of them very quickly.
+ I was able to do well indirectly through my nature itself, which is heartening.
+ If I make this years’ measurable and set up a way to keep them at the top of my mind, I should do very well this year

Here’s to a great year coming up for all of us.

Crazy Cab Grocery List

Wednesday night, my roommate Lindsay and I found this gem of a grocery list on the seat of the cab on the way to Smash Brothers Night at The Classy Apmt (east coast division).

I’ll forever wonder whether they dropped it before or after they got their groceries… I’ll try to transcribe some highlights, but honestly, all the fun is in figuring out what the heck they actually meant. I also wonder if this only makes no sense because I just haven’t yet found this off-brand grocery store, where everything sounds like a product you’ve heard of, but is 30% off (in terms of both price, and spelling accuracy). Here’s the list:

– Big columbo fat free vinalla vinnalla
– 2 break texture hearty
– 2 water spring water
– One promise light
– 2 toilet paper one to get

…And so much more to love in the image. I hope they found everything they were looking for.

Found grocery list. Interpret at your own risk.