2017 CliftonStrengths Summit Highlights

It’s hard to believe the first international CliftonStrengths Summit was held only 12 short months ago. What began when Donald O. Clifton asked, “What if we focused on what is right with people instead of what’s wrong?” is now a worldwide movement.

The second CliftonStrengths Summit hosted over 1,100 strengths ambassadors from 27 nations. The energy, passion and coaching expertise felt like a second College World Series had descended upon Omaha—a human development World Series.

Here are just a few of my favorite highlights.


Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO – What The World Needs Now
  • Changing the very practice of management, of how the world believes in how humans develop, is crucial to our future and our children’s future.
  • A major problem is that leadership has not changed with the will of the people. Old command-and-control hierachies, forced rankings, annual reviews and focusing on employee gaps only enable employee disengagement, higher turnover and lost productivity.
  • Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace examines these trends:
    • More than half of employees (51%) are searching for new jobs.
    • Most employees (91%) say the last time they changed jobs, they left their company to do so.
    • Only 21% of employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
  • What gave people meaning in their lives one and two generations ago has shifted. However, the old ways of people management are completely out of sync with the modern worker.
    • Past: My paycheck, my satisfaction, my boss, my annual review, my weaknesses, my job
    • Future: My purpose, my development, my coach, my ongoing conversations, my strengths, my life
  • What the world needs now—leaders who communicate frequently with their employees, offer development opportunities, deliver quality coaching, focus on strengths, provide cultures of flexibility and autonomy, stability and purpose.

Angela King Smith, Chief Engagement Officer, Atlanta Public Schools – Moving From What’s Wrong to What’s Strong
  • Focusing on strengths is a proven path to better results in the corporate world. Atlanta Public Schools has taken the same strengths-based mindset and applied it to the education realm.
  • Imperative for educators to move away from the narrow scope of testing.
  • Focusing on student strengths means more learning, better engagement, higher energy and purpose.
  • Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen and her team launched the new strengths-based culture for all 6,000 employees of the school system on the Georgia Tech campus.
  • Teachers, administrators and employees must take care of themselves first before they can take care of Atlanta’s children. A strengths-based culture helps achieve this. In turn, teachers are now better positioned to help students grow their strengths.
    • Old way: too often focused on adult issues instead of student issues
    • New vision: a mission-driven organization built around trust and collaboration with strengths as the guiding theme
  • Aristotle: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”
  • Strongest indicator of college success? It’s not GPA, SAT or class rank. It’s hope. Hope is free. It’s found when students understand how they can be successful through their own unique strengths.

Joshua Marcuse, Executive Director at Defense Innovation Board – Our Greatest Power Is Our People
  • Many organizational cultures are based on uniformity. However, this philosophy leads to treating people with an industrialized age (outdated and wrong) approach to human beings.
  • He received ground truth feedback that officers felt they needed to be interchangeable because they were expendable. This prompted Marcuse and his team to begin building a strengths-based culture. This focuses on each service member’s innate talents.
  • Each individual who receives strengths coaching gains a durable understanding of how they lead, communicate, influence and deliver results. Strengths appreciates all the qualities that are unique about each service member. This helps reinforce the incalculable value they bring to their jobs, families and communities.
  • A Navy Seal officer and strengths ambassador carries his team’s talent map in his briefcase wherever he goes. This ensures he knows how to lead, understand, and get the best out of each member of his team.
  • “What do we mean when we say, ‘our people are our greatest asset’, but we don’t understand our greatest asset?”
  • “What will it mean for the U.S. to care about the strengths of their service men and women not just during their time of service, but after rejoining the private sector?”
  • “If the military is grappling with the question of how they are using strengths to succeed with their mission, how are we doing the same in our ogranizations and communities?”

Mary Rosai, Senior Vice President, Charles Schwab – Investing in a Strengths-based Culture at Schwab
  • The foundational elements of talent development: Leadership, Strengths, Engagement, Performance and Collaboration.
  • 380 strengths coaches at Schwab helping make strengths accesible to create strengths-based culture.
  • Compelling case study of how strengths-based corporate cultures deliver tangible results.

Mike Ritz, Executive Director, Leadership Rhode Island – All Aboard: The First Ever Strengths-based State
  • In 2013, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of actively disengaged workers in the U.S.
  • Disengagement costs $3,400 per $10,000 in annual salary. Thus, a disengaged employee with $50,000 annual salary, equates to $17,000 in lost productivity.
  • Through smart public and private partnerships, Leadership Rhode Island has helped Rhode Island become the #1 state (up from #49) on Gallup’s workplace performance measurement: “I get to use my strengths every day.”

Deepak Chopra, M.D. Founder, The Chopra Foundation – You Are The Universe
  • Hard to forget Deepak’s anecdote about Prime Minister Nehru, his mother’s carefully chose pink sari and one red rose!
  • “Great leaders commit themselves to a cause bigger than their own ego.”
    • Attention: deep listening
    • Appreciation: being recognized for your strengths and gifts
    • Affection: caring
    • Acceptance: not trying to change someone
  • “Humans are not rational. We justify our emotions with what we call rationality.”
  • “Good luck is simply opportunity meeting preparedness. It comes when we’re in touch with ourselves.”

Tom Rath, Bestselling Author, Research and Advisor – Strengthening the Workplace of the Future
  • We must learn to put our heath and wellbeing first. Too many people are currently dying for a paycheck.
  • “Focus on what you can do, on what is possible.”
  • “The single greatest strengths is uncovering a talent in another person they didn’t know about.”
  • “Life is not what you get out of it, but what you put into it.”
  • “Instead of following your passion find your greatest contribution.”

Paul Allen, Senior Advisor, Gallup and Jim Collison, Strengths Community Manager, Gallup – Called To Coach: One Global Language
  • Strengths movements are strong and growing stronger in Mexico, Kenya, Australia, United Kingdom and dozens of other countries.
  • Strengths unites people across different cultures, time zones and languages.
  • “Be a more effective leader by being a more authentic leader.”

As of this morning, over 16,619,021 people have discovered their natural talents using the StrengthsFinder talent assessment. If you’re unfamiliar, check it out, find a coach and embark on your own strengths journey. It’s one of the best personal and professional decisions you’ll ever make.

Jeremy Pietrocini opened the 2017 CliftonStrengths Summit with a crucial question: “How do you change a life?”

Check out next year’s summit if you’d like to know the secret.

Hint: You start with talent and you finish with strength…


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If you’re seeking a Gallup-certified strengths coach in your area, here’s a good place to start.

3 Reasons Why Innovation Begins With “Creative Confidence”

Innovation isn’t a mystical process reserved for Silicon Valley visionaries, think tank futurists or teams in white lab coats. Tom and David Kelley’s “Creative Confidence” shows us anyone can discover how to hone and focus their creativity.

It just takes learning a few new tricks and debunking some age-old conventional wisdom.

The Heart of Innovation

If you’ve ever organized a garage, tinkered with a workout routine or optimized a weekly carpool route, you’re already an innovator.

Key question: How do we organize, tinker and optimize to innovate and improve our lives in deeper, more meaningful ways?

Roger Martin, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, describes what excellent designers do differently.

They always act with intention.

As the Kelley brothers explain, “While others may go with the default option, design thinkers make everything a conscious and original choice: from how they arrange their bookshelf to how they present their work. When they look around the world, they see opportunities to do things better and have a desire to change them…Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?”

First, we need to demystify the whole notion of innovation. Innovation is not abstruse alchemy. It’s something we do every day. We just don’t think of it as innovation with a capital “I”. We call it “organizing the garage” or “training for a half-marathon”.

Second, we need to think, live and work more intentionally. Modern life is full of distractions and non-emergencies. If we’re not careful, our days and weeks get swallowed up by a tsunami of notifications, text alerts and emails.

However, as we practice living with greater intention, our life filter becomes more and more refined. We begin seeing what truly matters versus what doesn’t.

It takes practice, but we eventually begin seeing hidden solutions in unexpected places.

From Fear To Courage

What other barriers prevent us from living out our full creative abilities?

For starters, we must address and eliminate the failure paradox.

Over time, we’ve mythologized and romanticized history’s great inventors. In pop culture, their discoveries are often misrepresented as made-for-TV eureka moments.

The intelligence and creative talent of Leonardo DaVinci or Thomas Edison goes without saying. However, they all had something in common much more mundane.

They failed as often as they could.

As Edison said, “The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours.”

Constructive learning through rapid failure is as essential now as it was when DaVinci invented ball bearings or Edison created the light bulb. Our greatest inventors knew this. Every failure removed a variable that blocked the road to success.

Unfortunately, this wisdom has been derailed and diverted.

Compare Edison’s definition of success with our traditional education system.

As Sir Ken Robinson describes in his famous 2006 TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, our modern education system functions in almost direct contradiction to Edison’s advice.

“We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. Education is the system that’s supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn,” Robinson says.

Our schools breed timidity and perfectionism.

Foster creative confidence? We actually penalize it. Nurture students to explore and discover? We actually muzzle the exhilaration of learning.

These learned behaviors cripple creative confidence.

Conversely, by understanding the difference between the growth zone and the performance zone, we begin appreciating the interrelation of risk, failure and innovation.

We can’t grow if we don’t risk. We won’t achieve peak performance if we spend our lives cowering under a perfectionism blankie.

Eliminate the failure paradox and replace it with a new mindset.

Let the magic happen.

As Emerson reminds us, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

From Blank Page To Insight

We spend more time working than almost any other activity. In fact, career wellbeing is one of the five essential elements of overall wellbeing.

Yet, Forrester research shows technology will displace 16% of all U.S. jobs by 2025.

The good news is 9% of these jobs will be replaced. This still means a net loss of 7% of U.S. jobs over the next eight years.

How do we maintain our balance amidst such uncertainty?

How do we seize and create opportunities when everything around us seems to be growing and dying and growing again at such a rapid pace?

Dr. Amanda Sammann, IDEO medical director, suggests adopting a new mentality. We must do a better job of reframing our challenges.

An accomplished surgeon, Dr. Sammann used to begin patient conversations that involved treatment plans and patient backgrounds. However, after witnessing the power of establishing an empathic relationship with her patients, she has changed her strategy.

Today she approaches patient conversations as more of an anthropologist instead of a surgeon. Her conversations focus on the human element of each patients’ situation. Dr. Sammann now asks patients to show her how they interact with objects and tools or to draw her a picture or diagram of their experiences.

This shift helps her better understand the true needs and concerns of her patients.

As chapter three in “Creative Confidence” concludes, “If you let go of what you “know,” you can start to look at things with fresh eyes—and with more questions than answers. But the real insights come from getting out into the world and gaining empathy with the people whose lives you want to improve.”

Seek the human need first. Reframe the challenge with better observation and better questions. This helps us get to the true heart of the matter.

As a result, we innovate more thoughtful and novel solutions that make a real difference.


Live more intentionally. Eliminate the failure paradox. Focus on the human element.

Remember, we’re all innovators. Sometimes our creative confidence just gets a little rusty.

A little practice and a little focus and we can recapture the creativity that’s always been there.


If you missed out on that super cool hammock or solar-powered electric toothbrush on Amazon Prime Day, treat yourself to a copy of “Creative Confidence”. Well worth your time.

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Thank you for reading.