Strengths vs. Talents


As I’ve been studying strengths and helping people find their super powers, I’ve realized that some of the strengths literature is very specific in describing strengths versus talents. 

What’s the difference between a strength and a talent? 

Simply put, a talent is your natural pattern for thinking, feeling or doing. 

It represents your potential. 

Develop Your Strengths from Your Talents

A strength, on the other hand, represents an ability that you’ve developed into a consistent, near-perfect performance.  So you start with your talents, and from them, you develop your strengths. 

Of course, you could start from your weaknesses and try to develop those into strengths, but it’s ultimately an investment decision, and, in many cases, a losing battle. 

The key is to unleash your best, based on what you want to accomplish.

In the book Strengths Quest Discover And Develop Your Strengths In Academics, Career, And Beyond, Donald Clifton and Edward Anderson write about strengths and talents.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior.  It’s something you naturally do.  It’s the way that you naturally think or naturally feel or naturally behave.  It’s your defaults.   While you can train yourself to think, feel, or behave another way, it can be like going against the grain and you’re no longer leveraging your natural talent.
  • A strength is the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance.  Your strengths are your abilities that you’ve developed and can count on.  You can consistently demonstrate peak performance.
  • A strength begins with a talent.  You discover, develop, and apply your talents to build your strengths.   Your talents are a breeding ground for your strengths.  By starting with talents, you can accelerate your learning curve and get more return for the time and energy you invest.  It’s making the most of the hand you’re dealt.

A Strength Begins with a Talent

You can think of this as smart, selective strength growth. 

Clifton and Anderson write:

“A strength begins with a talent … a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. A great number of talents naturally exist within you, and each of them is very specific … Your talents empower you. They make it possible for you to move to higher levels of excellence and fulfill your potential. … A talent represents a capacity to do something”

Strengths are Discovered and Developed

Your strengths are the refinement of talents with knowledge and skill. 

Clifton and Anderson write:

“A strength is the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. … strengths are produced when talents are refined with knowledge and skill”

Fulfill Your Personal Destiny

You can think of growing your strengths as a lifelong adventure and fulfilling your personal density. 

Clifton and Anderson write:

“In a sense, the development and application of strengths generates a feeling that you are fulfilling your personal destiny. Your strengths quest is a lifelong adventure. Each of the three aspects — discovery, development, and application — will continue throughout your life. This exciting and fulfilling process should bring you a lifetime of great satisfaction and joy.”

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Photo by hoyasmeg.


  1. Self awareness seems critical to building your strengths. The idea that going against your talents can feel like you are going against the grain is a fair warning to parents trying to push their kids towards a ‘career’ rather than a passion.

  2. The more things you try out, the more talents you discover. If you enjoy doing whatever you try or are good at it, then you have discovered your talent. To convert them into strength, just make them active hobbies (keep the fun part alive).

  3. Hi J.D.
    I like the focus on Strengths and talents. I think talents gets the person a leg up, but developing strengths is what take a person to the next level.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  4. Great concepts, although I do have to disagree with one of them.

    I don’t think of my strengths as something as something that I can do to near perfection. A lot of my strengths are creative. For example I’ve stopped trying to make each blog post perfect. It’s helped create more of a natural feel to my writing.

    What do you think? Am I off base?

  5. @ Fred

    Self awareness is huge. In fact, it was a friend of mine that helped me see some of my strengths that I just didn’t see myself.

    I like the pursuit of passion over career.

    @ Avani

    It’s a good reminder that you tend to be good at the things you enjoy. Fun is definitely a key component to stick with things for the long haul.

    @ Giovanni

    That’s a good way to put it, a talent gives you the chance, developing a strength gives you the results.

    @ Karl

    It sounds like your talents are ideation or intellection and you’ve developed them into strengths by working at flowing your thoughts.

    Be sure to check out the 34 themes of talent by Gallup. It’s a beauitful lens for unleashing your best, although it sounds like you’re already on a roll.

  6. There is a great new software package designed to create a visual mind map of your personal strengths as well as show how each individual’s strengths impact a team or work group. It’s an add-in to Mindjet’s MindManager 8, which is the leading mind mapping software on the market. The software will base your personal strengths mind map on your results in the StrengthsFinder 2.0 questionnaire. So if you have a team or work group and want to make them more effective or understand their dynamics better, you can have each team member complete the questionnaire, create a personal strengths map using the results and then collect the individual maps to map the entire team. You can visually see what strengths each team member brings to the team. There is also an Action Plan feature to help individuals create a program of activities to develop their strengths (or talents into strengths)

    One of the biggest challenges we see with customers who are using the software is that often the roles that team members have traditionally played because of their title or experience, are not the roles they should be playing based on their strengths. When a manager or supervisor has both the courage and the will to re-define those responsibilities based on strengths, the team “magically” begins to function more effectively. It’s an amazing revelation.

    Given the tough economic times we’re in right now, these are exactly the kinds of changes needed to increase effectiveness, raise efficiencies and produce work environments that are more rewarding. It would be great if everyone understood the power of talents/strengths. This is one tool that uses a visual format to help create that understanding.

  7. […] know that strengths begin with talents, and that the talents we poses are much easier to develop into strengths than the things we are not […]

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