Learning About Yourself (with Intention)


Earlier this year, as part of my (actual) job, I was given the opportunity to take the CliftonStrengths assessment. It’s a series of questions —  all binary, if memory serves correctly — that are used to help you learn more about how you think and operate. When I took the quiz, I often wondered how this could possibly work; there are some questions where the two options are hardly opposites. (One example, from memory and therefore not an actual example, was something like “which do you prefer: eating pizza or playing board games.”) I was skeptical, to say the least.

The results, though, were amazing. They have 34 different themes and rank them. For the top five, they also give you five “personalized insights” into those strengths and give you some action items and “blind spots” to watch out for; for the next five, they give you the action items and watch-outs, but don’t go as deep. The also provide descriptions for the 24 other skills (in rank order). The whole report — 25 pages — was fascinating and felt like a good description how I think.

I’m not going to share the 25-page report here, but I am going to share the top five results and their descriptions. Why? Because over the years, I’ve used this Weekender space to help me understand — and to share with you — why I think Now I Know works. And after reviewing my CliftonStrenghts profile recently, I realized that the top five really do help tell the Now I Know story: I hope that, by sharing more about how my brain works, you’ll appreciate how Now I Know works, too. 

My top strength was Ideation — “You are fascinated by ideas. You are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.” I think that’s a good top 5 for me but I was surprised it was number one overall. I think this comes through in the newsletters, particularly with how the intros often connect with the main fact, with my asides, and with my love of easter eggs (rare as they may be). 

Number two was Learner — “You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you.” I literally have a newsletter titled “Now I Know” (as opposed to, say, “now you know”). I love learning and I think that’s super-clear. How is this not my top strength? Dunno.

Third: Intellection. Fittingly, I don’t think I had heard that word before. CliftonStengths’s summary: “You are characterized by your intellectual activity. You are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions. ” The Monday through Thursday emails aren’t an example of this, but the Friday ones? Spot on!

Fourth is Input: — “You have a need to collect and archive. You may accumulate information, ideas, artifacts, or even relationships.” Accumulate information? Me? This is getting creepy, no? (For what it’s worth, I also like to collect other things — I have an embarrassingly and impressively large collection of New York Mets caps.)

The fifth one is Arranger, and it’s a bit different than above. CliftonStengths groups all 34 themes into four uber-themes: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. All of my top four are in the Strategic Thinking bucket; this one is in the Executing bucket. It’s defined as “You can organize, but you also have a flexibility that complements this ability. You like to determine how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.” Now I Know is a big endeavor as a solo project, and one of the questions I often get asked is how I possibly put it together — I publish something every weekday and do so despite having a full-time job, family, and the rest of the stuff going on that we all have going on. I’ve never had a good answer to that question, because to me, there’s no trick. In the spirit of both Nike and Yoda, I just do it.

The rest of the report was also very interesting to me and I hope you have the opportunity to take the assessment yourself. I’ve found it useful and I’m confident you will, too.

The Now I Know Week In Review

MondayThe Hole in a Swiss Citizenship Application: One reader wrote in to tell me that they know of the woman who was denied citizenship in this story, and that she is almost universally disliked in her area for the reasons stated — and probably should have been denied citizenship. 

TuesdayThe Man Who Bought (And Returned?) Stonehenge: The gift for the person who has everything… or not.

Wednesday: Dinner and a Backup Plan: As many of you pointed out, I missed an (obvious?) opportunity to relate this to the movie Airplane! — which, I guess, is inconsistent with my CliftonStregths profile. Heh.

ThursdayThe Very Expensive (and Not Very Nice) Surprise Party: For what it’s worth, I think this ended up the right way.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads (and a sudoku!) for the weekend:

1) “So Thieves Nabbed Your Catalytic Converter. Here’s Where It Ended Up.” (New York Times, 13 minutes, November 2023). I knew about the spate of catalytic converter thefts around the world; I didn’t know how it all came together. This story goes deep and has lots of great photos.

2) “The people who ruined the internet” (The Verge, 35 minutes, November 2023). The subhead: “As the public begins to believe Google isn’t as useful anymore, what happens to the cottage industry of search engine optimization experts who struck content oil and smeared it all over the web? Well, they find a new way to get rich and keep the party going.”  I don’t actually agree with teh headline — I think search engine optimization didn’t ruin the Internet — but the story is interesting nonetheless.

3) “Aimless” (James Sinclair, hopefully no more than 30 minutes, October/November 2023). This isn’t an article — it’s a sudoku puzzle with some variant rules. It took me about 20 minutes, but a lot of that was trying to figure out how to get started and then past the second hurdle. Once I made the two big deductions, it was smooth sailing. If you like it, consider signing up for James’ newsletter

Have a great weekend!