Playing to My Strengths

Good Advice from Johnny Bunko

johnny bunko coverA few years back, Daniel “A Whole New Mind” Pink wrote and Rob Ten Pas illustrated a manga career guide titled Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. The trailer — that’s right, this book has a trailer — gives a quick overview:

One of the key pieces of advice that book gives is “Think strengths, not weaknesses”. It’s covered in this excerpt, in which Johnny, who’s trapped in a dead-end job, gets an important lesson from Diana, the magical career advisor who appears whenever he breaks apart a pair of special chopsticks:

bunko strengths 1

bunko strengths 2

The names on those two bobbleheads are:

bunko strengths 3


Buckingham, with Donald O. Clifton, wrote a book titled Now, Discover Your Strengths, which is tied to a Gallup personal assessment system called StrengthsFinder. It features a test that measures you along 34 dimensions called “talent themes” that everyone has to varying degrees. The goal of the test is to find your “top five” themes — the things that have the greatest impact on your behaviour and performance — so that you can focus on them.

The themes fall into four different domains of leadership strength…

  • Executing: Team members who have a dominant strength in the Executing domain are those whom you turn to time and again to implement a solution. These are the people who will work tirelessly to get something done. People who are strong in the Executing domain have an ability to take an idea and transform it into reality within the organization they lead.
  • Influencing: People who are innately good at influencing are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organization. When you need someone to take charge, speak up, and make sure your group is heard, look to someone with the strength to influence.
  • Relationship building: Relationship builders are the glue that holds a team together. Strengths associated with bringing people together — whether it is by keeping distractions at bay or keeping the collective energy high — transform a group of individuals into a team capable of carrying out complex projects and goals.
  • Strategic thinking: Those who are able to keep people focused on “what they could” be are constantly pulling a team and its members into the future. They continually absorb and analyze information and help the team make better decisions.

…and the themes themselves are:

strengthsfinder themes

The accented themes — Activator, Woo, Positivity, Ideation, and Strategic — are special, at least to me. They’re my strengths.

Here’s a brief description of each of the themes, and this PDF (221k) provides a more detailed description of each one.

My Strengths

As I wrote in an earlier post, there were a number of things I enjoyed about my tenure at Microsoft. One of those things were the many perks that they provided for their employees, which included some personal health and development goodies, and one of them was the Gallup StrengthsFinder test. As part of the annual team-building exercise for the Developer and Platform Evangelism group in Canada have taken it, I’ve taken it twice (on Microsoft’s dime, of course), and the results have been consistent. If you get the opportunity, you should take the StrengthsFinder test. There isn’t much better advice than “know thyself”, and having seen my own results, as well as those of my former teammates, I’d have to say it’s pretty accurate.

While going through some paper files in my home office, I found my last StrengthsFinder evaluation and thought, “Hey, why not post this for kicks?” A quick scan and an OCR later, I had something ready to copy and paste into a blog entry, and here it is for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

My “top 5” strengths are, in order, with the first one being my strongest:

  1. Positivity: People strong in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
  2. Strategic: People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Woo: People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
  4. Ideation: People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  5. Activator: People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

I think that sums me up rather nicely. The detailed report appears below.

1. Positivity

You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation. Some call you lighthearted. Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seems to be. But either way, people want to be around you. Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious. Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition or, worse, heavy with pressure. You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit. You inject drama into every project. You celebrate every achievement. You find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital. Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down. Your Positivity won’t allow it. Somehow you can’t quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one’s sense of humor.

Action items for the Positivity theme:

  • You will excel in any role in which you are paid to highlight the positive. A teaching role, a sales role, an entrepreneurial role, or a leadership role will utilize your ability to make things dramatic.
  • You tend to be more enthusiastic and energetic than most people. When others become discouraged or are reluctant to take risks, your attitude will provide the impetus to keep them moving. Over time, others will start to look to you for this “lift.”
  • Deliberately help others see the things that are going well for them. You can keep their eyes on the positive.
  • Because people will rely on you to help them rise above their daily frustrations, arm yourself with good stories, jokes and sayings. Never underestimate the effect that you can have on people.
  • Plan highlight activities for your colleagues. For example, find ways to turn small achievements into “events,” or plan regular “celebrations” that others can look forward to, or capitalize on the year’s holidays and festivals.
  • Increase the recognition you give to others. Try to tailor it to each person’s need.
  • Be ready to: Avoid negative people. They will bring you down. Instead, seek people who find in the world the same kind of drama and humor that you do. You will energize each other.
  • Be ready to: Explain that your enthusiasm is not simple naivety. You know that bad things can happen; you simply prefer to focus on the good things. Pessimists might superficially seem wiser; they might even sometimes be right-but they are rarely achievers (and, incidentally, optimists have more fun).

2. Strategic

kirk and spock playing chess
The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path—your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.

Action items for the Strategic theme:

  • Take the time to fully reflect or muse about a goal that you want to achieve until the related patterns and issues emerge for you. Remember that this musing time is essential to Strategic thinking.
  • You can see repercussions more clearly than others. Take advantage of this ability by planning your range of responses in detail. There is little point in knowing where events will lead if you are not ready when they do.
  • Talk with others about the alternative directions you see. Detailed conversations like this can help you become even better at anticipating.
  • Trust your intuitive insights as often as possible. Even though you might not be able to explain them rationally, your intuitions are created by a brain that instinctively anticipates and projects. Have confidence in these intuitions.
  • When the time comes, seize the moment and state your strategy with confidence.
  • Find a group that you think does important work and contribute your Strategic thinking. You can be a leader with your ideas.
  • Learn how to describe what you see “down the road.” Others who do not possess a strong Strategic theme may not anticipate often or well. You will need to be very persuasive if you are to help them avoid future obstacles, or to exploit the opportunities you have seen.
  • Partner with someone with a strong Activator theme. With this person’s need for action and your need for anticipation, you can forge a powerful partnership.

3. Woo

Yours Truly with Robert Scoble at South by Southwest 2008.

Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport. Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say. You don’t. Not only are you rarely at a loss for words; you actually enjoy initiating with strangers because you derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection. Once that connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on. There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in. In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet—lots of them.

Action items for the Woo theme:

  • Choose a job in which you can interact with many people over the course of a day.
  • Partner with someone with a strong Relator or Empathy theme. This person can solidify the relationships that you begin.
  • Deliberately build the network of people who know you. Tend to it by checking in with each person at least once a month.
  • Join local organizations, volunteer for boards, and find out how to get on the social lists of the influential people where you live.
  • Learn the names of as many people as you can. Build a card file of the people you know and add names as you become acquainted. Include a snippet of personal information-such as their birthday, favorite color, hobby, or favorite sports team.
  •  Consider running for an elected office. You are a natural campaigner. Understand, however, that you might prefer the campaigning more than holding the office.
  • Recognize that your ability to get people to like you is very valuable. Do not be afraid to use it to make things happen.
  • In social situations, take responsibility for helping put more reserved people at ease.
  • Practice ways to charm and engage others. For example, research people before you meet them so you can find the common ground.
  • Find the right words to explain to people that networking is part of your style. If you don’t claim this theme, others might mistake it for insincerity and wonder why you are being so friendly.

4. Ideation


You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection. An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you. Others may label you creative or original or conceptual or even smart. Perhaps you are all of these. Who can be sure? What you are sure of is that ideas are thrilling. And on most days this is enough.

Action items for the Ideation theme:

  • Seek work in which you will be paid for your ideas, such as marketing, advertising, journalism, design, or new product development. Find work in which you will be given credit for your ideas.
  • Yours is the kind of mind that bores quickly, so make small changes in your work or home life. Experiment. Play mental games with yourself. All of these will help keep you stimulated.
  • Seek brainstorming sessions. With your abundance of ideas, you will make these sessions more exciting and more productive.
  • Schedule time to read, because the ideas and experiences of others can become your raw material for new ideas. Schedule time to think, because thinking energizes you.
  • Discuss your ideas with other people. Their responses will help you keep refining your ideas.
  • Finish your thoughts and ideas before communicating them. Lacking your Ideation strength, others might not be able to “join the dots” of an interesting but incomplete idea, and thus might dismiss it.
  • Partner with someone with a strong Activator theme. This person can push you to put your ideas into practice. This kind of exposure can only be good for your ideas.
  • Partner with someone with a strong Analytical theme. This person will question you and challenge you, therefore strengthening your ideas.

5. Activator

striking a match

“When can we start?” This is a recurring question in your life. You are impatient for action. You may concede that analysis has its uses or that debate and discussion can occasionally yield some valuable insights, but deep down you know that only action is real. Only action can make things happen. Only action leads to performance. Once a decision is made, you cannot not act. Others may worry that “there are still some things we don’t know,” but this doesn’t seem to slow you. If the decision has been made to go across town, you know that the fastest way to get there is to go stoplight to stoplight. You are not going to sit around waiting until all the lights have turned green. Besides, in your view, action and thinking are not opposites. In fact, guided by your Activator theme, you believe that action is the best device for learning. You make a decision, you take action, you look at the result, and you learn. This learning informs your next action and your next. How can you grow if you have nothing to react to? Well, you believe you can’t. You must put yourself out there. You must take the next step. It is the only way to keep your thinking fresh and informed. The bottom line is this: You know you will be judged not by what you say, not by what you think, but by what you get done. This does not frighten you. It pleases you.

Action items for the Activator theme:

  • Seek work in which you can make your own decisions and act upon them. In particular, look for start-up or turn-around situations.
  • Take responsibility for your intensity by always asking for action when you are a part of a group.
  • To avoid conflict later, ensure that your manager judges you on measurable outcomes rather than your process. Your process is not always pretty.
  • Prepare a simple explanation as to why any decision, even the wrong one, will help you learn, and therefore will make the next decision more informed. Use it when people challenge you and tell you to slow down.
  • Try to work only on committees that are action-oriented. Much committee work might prove very boring for you.
  • Give the reasons why your requests for action must be granted; otherwise, others might dismiss you as impatient and label you a ‘ready, fire, aim’ person.
  • Recognize that your “pushiness” might sometimes intimidate others.
  • Partner with someone with a strong Strategic or Analytical theme. This person can help you see how high the cliff is before you fall off it.
  • Avoid activity for activity’s sake. If you want people to join in your activity, you will need to provide them with a purpose for their actions.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

One reply on “Playing to My Strengths”

I took this test a few years back as well. Do you think its worth a re-test every so often?

Here were my results:


Heh, I should go back and re-read these. Its been a while since I thought about this. Thanks for the reminder Joey!

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