Historians believe that the invention of written language occurred as humanity shifted from hunter-gatherers to farming based societies. They speculate that these advanced societies were more complex than those of hunting and gathering and thus people required tools to adapt to that complexity. For example, they needed ways of recording and tabulating goods traded and livestock kept. The image accompanying this post is a tablet dating circa 2370 BC from Mesopotamia. It’s a primitive invoice describing the delivery of 3 types of beer. The language at the time used pictograms, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, but eventually, a shorthand developed. Instead of a picture, a symbol representing the picture (a letter) was used instead. Thus the earliest alphabet was born. Eventually, these symbols were used to represent a sound through which words could be constructed.

For the most part, anything that occurred before writing is considered “pre-history” and thus “history” itself began with the written word. In fact, our holiest texts, as in the Bible, Koran, and Baghava Gita, etc. all require written language. Think about it, the alphabet is that important. The alphabet not only reflected a HUGE change in the history of mankind, but actually defined the very concept of History, and codified our connection to the Universe. The alphabet became a conduit to Knowledge.

So what does his have to do with Strengths? A lot. Gallup, under the leadership of Don Clifton has identified hundreds of unique talents and created a shorthand to represent talent themes. Sound familiar? These 34 themes are an alphabet of human potential. Let me state it again because I think it to be that important. STRENGTHS are an ALPHABET of HUMAN POTENTIAL.

If you accept this premise, let us speculate what this potentially means. If the analogy stands up to reason, then humanity is in the shift of something HUGE. Where the alphabet signified the transition from hunter-gather to a more sophisticated agriculture-based civilization, the 34 Signature themes are an indication that our society has grown to a level of sophistication or complexity that such an advance is necessary. Subjectively this makes sense, doesn’t it? In my own lifetime, the world has made huge shifts in technology, globalization, and cultural norms, and as such, the complexity of adapting to the new surroundings is accelerating. In the words of my father, who is 86, “I don’t recognize the world anymore. I’m out of sync with it.”

The pace of change is accelerating, and considering climate change the very existence of the world is being put into question. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances that humanity itself must evolve in order to survive and thrive?

For most people I am guessing that Clifton StrengthsFinder (CSF) is just a tool, like Myers-Briggs or DISC – some helpful instrument that can be used to make a team retreat a little interesting. I just don’t see it that way. While the CSF is a tool, so is the alphabet! The alphabet is a tool to transmit knowledge. Strengths is a tool to tap human potential. Curt Liesveld, a thought leader and contemporary of Don Clifton, once said: “the untapped potential in the human race is the world’s greatest renewable resource”. Imagine a world in which all human beings, not only can read, but arise to their potential. How the world would change! What challenge could we not overcome?

The alphabet evolved over time. The Egyptians used pictures or hieroglyphs to convey stories, the Samaritans used a consonant-based alphabet to convey words in a spoken language. The Greeks added vowels. It is likely that CSF may be an early alphabet, and we have much to learn about human potential in the decades to come, but this should not stop us from maximizing the opportunity before us.

Just as children are required to learn the alphabet as one of the primary and foundational skills to adapt to our society, so too do we need to help children and young adults to understand the language of their unique talents. Nor just for their own success and fulfillment but for society itself.

Everyone should know their Strengths. Parents. Teachers. Leaders. Managers. Husbands and Wives. Students. Politicians. If you don’t know your Strengths, take the assessment, get a Strengths coach and start your journey. The world needs you.