Building on Strengths
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. (attr. Albert Einstein)
In both business and education, I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency to focus only on looking for problems or areas of weakness and then finding ways to fix these. As a cognitive psychologist and educator, I have found it to be much more efficacious and rewarding to look for strengths as the cornerstone upon which to build learning and growth, in both individuals and organizations. In the last several years, however, I’ve noticed more and more educators, psychologists and neurologists shifting their approach and encouraging others to do so.
Why not focus on the strengths of each person? Discovering strengths and building on them results in superior educational outcomes than an approach that only focuses on remediating weaknesses. To be sure, weaknesses should be addressed, but this should occur in the context of a larger plan that takes into account the whole person. There are countless examples where extraordinary abilities are accompanied by weaknesses in other areas. Just a few that come to mind:
Beethoven – musical genius; deaf.
Stephen Spielberg – movie-making genius; dyslexic.
Emily Dickinson – Poetic brilliance; extreme introversion.
Thomas Edison – innovative inventor; his mother was told he would never make it through school.
Temple Grandin – unique understanding of animals; autistic.
Rather than have their lives defined by their weaknesses, these individuals were characterized by their talents. So why do we continue to only look for problems and areas of weakness? Finding the strengths in each person is the starting point for facilitating their education and unleashing all the potential inherent in those strengths. Building on their strengths is the launching point for their success. How do you look at the people in your work or school environment? Are they a collection of problems to be fixed? Or is each and every one a unique person with strengths meant to contribute to the world in a specific way? Provide your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to check back for more posts on this topic!
All Kinds of Minds (AKOM) website