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ANALYZE THIS! — Self-analysis: illuminating, unnerving

Vijay MehrotraBy Vijay Mehrotra

If you are a regular reader of this column, then you already know that I am currently engaged in two major long-term projects: a book of stories about the human interactions behind successful “real world” analytics [1] and a new MBA initiative on customer success management [2]. I started both of these early last year, and each will require a lot of hard work over a relatively long period of time.

My commitment to both of these projects is quite strong, and yet I find myself in a familiar spot, too often distracted by too many other competing priorities to bring the necessary focus to these larger projects. My progress has been far slower than expected, and as such the self-critical voice in my head grows louder by the day.

I was thinking about all of this last month while attending Pulse 2018 [3], a conference for customer success professionals with more than 5,000 total attendees (a huge shout-out to Gainsight’s Ruben Rabago for inviting me and my students to attend). Fortunately for me, I found myself sitting in what turned out to be an extremely valuable workshop on “emotional intelligence.”

Not knowing what to expect, I found the workshop facilitator (Nils Vinje, vice president for customer success at Rainforest QA) to be energetic, knowledgeable and inspiring. In an early section entitled “Self Awareness,” Nils called attention to the importance of emotional awareness and accurate self-assessment for professional success. He also explicitly mentioned the CliftonStrengths assessment from Gallup, referring to it as a valuable tool for discovering one’s strengths.

Self-analysis: I found myself sitting in what turned out to be an extremely valuable workshop on “emotional intelligence.” Photo Courtesy of

Self-analysis: I found myself sitting in what turned out to be an extremely valuable workshop on “emotional intelligence.” Photo Courtesy of

This immediately jolted me out of my funk. Years ago, a former colleague had turned me on to “First, Break All the Rules” [4], a book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. In their consulting work at Gallup, Buckhingham and Coffman spent a lot of time and energy studying great managers, analyzing a huge amount of data and complementing it with interviews and profiles. The book was a direct result of this research, and one of the key insights for me was its unconventional definition of talent: “For most of us, talent seems a rare and precious thing, bestowed on special, faraway people … Great managers disagree with this definition of talent … they define talent as ‘a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.’”

This notion of talent is at the heart of Gallup’s CliftonStrengths, a personality assessment that asks respondents a series of binary questions and then maps these responses to a set of 34 carefully defined talents (also called “themes”) that are in turn grouped into four categories (“domains”). For each individual, the themes are then sorted, with the highest ones corresponding to the behaviors or activities of the respondent’s most natural inclinations.

Back near the turn of the century, encouraged by a friend who was then working for Gallup, I took a version of this assessment (known in those days as the StrengthsQuest) that provided me with information about my top five themes. These results helped me to better understand a number of difficult personal and professional situations that I had struggled with in the past [5].

Inspired by Nils’ talk at Pulse, I decided to take the CliftonStrengths assessment once again, this time opting to pay a few more dollars to get a report listing all 34 themes ranked from strongest to weakest. I also asked my friend and former USF colleague Jennifer Luebke, a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach, to help me interpret the results.

The findings were illuminating – and slightly unnerving:

  • Most unexpectedly, my results showed the analytical theme was near the bottom of my list. This provided some insight as to why I often seem to have different perspectives and preferences than most of my professional colleagues.
  • It is no surprise that I had managed to conceive of two interesting and non-traditional new projects (book, academic program). New ideas like these emerge naturally from my penchant for “ideation” and “strategic,” both of which are among my top five themes.
  • Moving beyond the idea stage and actually getting new initiatives started also comes easily to me, because another theme near the top of my list is what Gallup calls “activator.” People with a strong score on this talent are skilled at turning ideas into action. We are also known for being quite impatient.
  • Unfortunately, all of the themes in the domain of “execution” were clustered toward the bottom of my list, leading Luebke to wonder – only slightly tongue-in-cheek – as to how I manage to get anything done at all. It is perhaps no surprise that I have always had a need for deadlines and collaborators to help keep me moving forward.
  • Finally, my very strongest theme is “WOO,” which in Gallup-speak stands for “winning others over.” Several others at the top of my list – “positivity,” “includer,” “empathy,” “connectedness” and “individualization” – also correlate strongly with collaboration and social connection.

Going through this process has taught me many valuable lessons. Most immediately, I have a better understanding of why certain aspects of long projects feel daunting to me, particularly the ones that feel slow and/or repetitive. This realization has helped quiet some of the negative self-talk.

It has always seemed natural to me to seek out collaborators (a big thanks to my business partners, faculty colleagues and research co-authors for helping me make it this far). But after seeing these results, I can see that I have a much clearer need for partners who think differently than I do and truly enjoy the things that I do not. In the near term, I am in search of collaborators who can help keep me focused on the steps needed to keep my non-analytical analytics book and our customer success management program moving forward – and who can (at least in the near term) firmly keep me from trying to “activate” more new projects that pull me in yet more directions.

Wish me (and them) luck!

Vijay Mehrotra ( is a professor in the Department of Business Analytics and Information Systems at the University of San Francisco’s School of Management and a longtime member of INFORMS.



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