This Case Study is a summary of a two-hour feedback session conducted by Dr. Tom Tavantzis, member of The Talent Team with Jill, an 18-year-old high school senior, who took the Highlands Ability Battery in preparation for making plans for college and beyond.
The middle years of high school are an ideal time to take the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB). Even in the finest school systems, guidance counselors are too thinly spread to provide the individualized career advice we all would like for ourselves. They also lack access to sophisticated tools like the HAB.
The sooner you know your abilities and natural talents the better off you are. The sophomore high school year, when the average child is 15, is the earliest age at which the Highlands Ability Battery is effective. I had my three children take it when each was a second-semester junior.
“What’s the point if the student isn’t into it at the time?” you may ask. The point is that as time passes, the student will return to her results many times. Each time, she will pay more attention to the findings. Equally important, the student should share the report with her parents and listen to the digital recording of her feedback.
Everyone will then have a keener understanding of the student’s talents and abilities. These may be very different from the results they anticipated, and very different also from the parents’ own strengths.
For the student, there can be an added benefit. People may stop asking, “What will you major in?” or “What are you going to become?” and on and on.
Highlights of the feedback session:
“I’m not sure what I want to do yet or how I’m going to do it,” Jill said. “I want to do something with international relations, diplomacy and helping others. Either by helping them through government service or doing some nonprofit work, like the Peace Corp or… I’m not really sure there. I have volunteered a lot with the Red Cross, learning about farming by working on them and recently became proficient at canning. I just liked learning about other countries, how people think and live in other countries.”
I asked her what classes she found most interesting in high school.
“I took mostly political science classes as my electives and really liked those. I enjoyed my science classes, too.”
“And you’ve also done a lot of travel, right?”
“Yeah, I did travel with a friend for a summer in Australia working odd jobs. We worked our way through Cambodia learning about farming. I lived in Italy for a month. In Rome, I learned a lot of Italian. It was easy especially since my Mom’s family is Italian.”
She also said she had chosen her college partly because it had an international studies major.
“So if you were to think about some sort of fantasy dream job, what would that be? Would it be traveling? Would it be working with other cultures?”
“I want to travel because it’s fun,” she said. “Maybe teaching other people about different ways to cultivate crops…be part of helping to build-up underdeveloped nations. Helping people be self-sufficient. Something like that.”
Jill had thought of herself as an Introvert and was surprised to see herself score as an Extrovert on the HAB. I explained to her that this was the one score that can change based on an individual’s desire to operate in the world in a certain way.
“One theory is that people learn skills to be more comfortable in the extroverted world. It’s a possibility.”
I also said it could fluctuate depending on the circumstances, depending on how one is thinking and feeling at the time. The family can also play into it. As you get out of the family, you can become more who you were meant to be.
“On the Extrovert side of the world, it’s about being plugged into the interpersonal world, getting energy from people and exchanging ideas and talking things out as they appear in your head. The Introvert side of the world is about thinking things through, plugging into yourself to get energy and you may or may not share them or disclose them to other people.”
“Well, I think I definitely can get energy from other people more than I can from myself,” she said, “but I tend to think things over more in my head rather than talking them out.”
The assessment indicated that Jill was definitely a Specialist.
Some 70 percent of us are primarily Generalists. Generalists share a common response to most situations. If I say the word “dime,” to a Generalist, nine times out of 10 the response will be “nickel.” If I say the word “dime” to a Specialist, the response may be “Susan B. Anthony” or “buffalo head” or something else indicating a personal preference.
“Specialists are always going to see things differently and uniquely,” I said. “It’s a little tough to live with that sometimes.”
“Yeah, I guess that is why I first think things through in my head. I have a hard time explaining myself sometimes to other people because I think about things in a different way. I want to understand things really well,” she replied.
We then returned to the Introvert/Extrovert question. I asked her what role she liked more in her Red Cross teaching experience: Did she prefer to perform or remain behind the scenes?
She said she found it a lot more energizing to be on the teaching and performing side.
“A Specialist/Extrovert feels a kind of a push and pull in two different directions,” I told her. “She spends time by herself investigating, researching and understanding something, but then she wants to talk about it with someone and display her new knowledge or skill.”
In Time Frame, Jill came out in the upper end. This indicated she was able to think ahead five to seven years fairly easily. In her case, that meant a choice between graduate school and, perhaps, the Peace Corps.
I told her, “You can certainly handle an assignment working over a period of years for the Peace Corps or some sort of implementation of a plan for agricultural changes in a country and its people.
Jill said she had hated the time pressure of the Classification section of the HAB, but she had still gotten a high score. Clearly, she was a quick problem-solver. I said, “Think about a trial attorney, think about an emergency room physician, or think about an emergency manager who has to make quick decisions on the disaster scene. OK, this tent here, station that group of workers over there.”
I think it is important to try to take the dream of a young person and to link it in concrete terms to his or her results on the Highlands Ability Battery.
She had what I called a “Rubik’s Cube kind of brain,” and, as I always do with clients with high Classification, I warned of the dangers of arrogance toward those who lack this trait:
“You’re in class, and the teacher hasn’t finished describing what the problem is, and you’re wondering why everyone isn’t catching up to you? Does that sound familiar?”
“Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.”
“There should be nothing on this that’s a surprise,” I told her. “What the HAB is supposed to do is validate some things that you have experienced or felt or thought about.”
This is a key point: 99 percent of the folks who come in for their feedback to the HAB are not dazzled by new discoveries but rather by the clarity, the illumination of parts of themselves and their strengths in ways they had not connected or fully considered.
Jill’s Concept Organization score was even higher: 90th percentile. In the teaching field, this high capacity for deductive reasoning could make coming up with logical processes to teach others easy.
“This is a little more methodical and step-by-step, but when you’re doing presentations, when you’re organizing your thoughts inside your head and then writing them out, it comes out pretty smoothly. So in your head, you’re very organized; outside, your room and your desk might be a complete mess, but inside your head you know where everything goes.”
As I often do, I noted again how people with high Classification and Concept Organization might be prone to procrastination for different reasons—either they find holes in every plan they come up with or they have to analyze over and over to make sure they have covered everything.
In Idea Productivity, Jill was low-range, low enough that “you do want to be in a role where it’s about focus and follow-through much of the time.”
The other two Driving Abilities are Spatial Relations Theory and Spatial Relations Visualization.
Spatial Relations Theory shows one’s ability to see theoretical relationships that exist in the working of the mechanical universe: Basically, how systems work.
This applies to both mechanical systems and interpersonal systems. Successful diplomats and mediators, for example, might be expected to score high in this ability. In general, so do people more comfortable dealing with abstract ideas.
A high score in this area can also indicate the ability to design tangible structures but not necessarily to build them.
Spatial Relations Visualization more directly measures one’s ability to work in the world of physical objects. In contrast to Spatial Relations Theory, a high score in this area sometimes correlates with an impatience with roles and tasks that deal mainly with ideas or relationships.
Medical students and physicians generally score high in both abilities—(93%). They can conceptualize the human body and how it works and in most specialties they want to have a tangible, hands-on relationship with it.
Jill was in the 70th percentile for Spatial Relations Theory, which meant she could easily grasp the theory involved in farming production. She was in the 80th percentile for Spatial Relations Visualization, which would have been an advantage in a career such as engineering. Definitely in a career that allowed her to be working with tangible objects and seeing practical results, like canning, building ovens, etc.
In the Specialized Abilities, she ranked low in Design Memory and high in Observation.
“People who score like you do,” I told her, “are people who can pick up on nonverbal cues, can scan the environment for cues and easily see what is missing or out of place…”
The Specialized Abilities play a major role in our personal and work lives.
Design Memory measures your ability to recall a pattern or picture represented in two dimensions. People low in this area may find it more helpful to get information through the written or spoken word.
Observation measures your ability to pay close attention to visual details, which can include body language. A high score here is often associated with artistic ability.
Verbal Memory measures your ability to learn new words or to recall what you’ve read. Those who score low in it often compensate by reading out loud, listening to books on tape or associating words with pictures.
Tonal Memory measures your ability to remember what you hear, including tunes and tonal sequences. Scoring high in it means you can easily learn to play a musical instrument or master the accent of a foreign language.
Rhythm Memory measures your ability to recall rhythm patterns. It also relates to kinesthetic learning, or learning through movement. Your score here, for example, might well correlate with mastering a golf swing.
Pitch Discrimination measures your ability to note small differences in pitch and is often related to perceptual discrimination in all the senses. It is useful in such varied activities as gourmet cooking or working with small machines.
Tonal Memory, Rhythm Memory and Pitch Discrimination are sometimes referred to as the Musical Abilities. If you score high in all three, you will almost surely be frustrated unless you can find some outlet for them.
Number Memory measures your ability to recall facts and data and to use numerical information to solve problems and make decisions.
Visual Speed and Accuracy measure your ability to read and interpret written symbols. Those who score high in it are usually comfortable handling large volumes of paperwork or dealing with columns of figures.
Jill’s Verbal Memory score was in the 15th percentile, indicating she had some challenge recalling what she read and would not learn as quickly in this area as she would in some other areas. I told her that taking notes in the margins of her books would be helpful.
Her Tonal Memory was high, however, indicating that she was more able to learn by remembering what she heard, such as a lecture. “You might want to practice the skill of reflecting back what words you think a person said just so they know they were heard,” I told her.
Jill’s Rhythm Memory score was mid-range, which I told her would be helpful in learning through hands-on experience.
Her Pitch Discrimination score was also mid-range. “Pitch Discrimination is also about the creative side of you because pitch is creativity, there’s that kind of formula.
“So what you have in this formula,” I told her, “is you have the Specialist piece, you have the Idea Productivity low-range, and then you have Design Memory low, Observation is high, and Pitch Discrimination is mid-range. The creative side of you has to come out and that’s different from the standard engineer. It could be the person who designs a new kind of outdoor oven.”
She also had a high Vocabulary score. “That’s a big finding and it certainly should influence you to think about going pretty far in terms of your career.”
“OK, what are the big things? The big findings are that you’re in the Specialist world. We have an interesting hypothesis that you’re in the Extrovert world in what’s called a performing personal style, which is someone who has an area of expertise and enjoys getting up and telling people about it and communicating about it.
“You have a longer Time Frame so you can think ahead strategically, at the same time being results-oriented. Four of your five Learning Channels are high. You have many ways of taking in new information and have as well a thirst for learning new things. It is a significant push from within and makes you a very quick learner!
“Your Spatial Relations Visualization ability is a pull toward being involved with some tangible outcomes, but that could be for a company that makes things, or building up the technological side of the world”
We then discussed how Jill should use the Highlands Ability Battery in the days and weeks to come.
“It takes three or four months to figure out how this works and really what you’re supposed to do initially is look back at the report and start seeing it in terms of the choices that you make. Like when you’re problem-solving, how quickly you jump to the conclusion or how you need to structure it and then as you start to see yourself, you’re going to be drawn to roles that you can contribute best from.
“It means being in a role where you can be a problem-solver, where you can perform, where you can become an expert, where you have some creative outlets for yourself.”
Jill might be going against the grain of introversion in the family. She is looking for a position in work settings where she can be in the role of performer, engaging with people and making things while using her creative abilities.
She can succeed in roles in which she can learn new things quickly and with little stress. She also has strong pulls toward roles in which she is engaged in rapid-fire problem-solving and decision-making. Her strong Vocabulary suggests she should aim high in her career goals.
Dr. Tom Tavantzis’ book, “Hardwired: Taking the Road to Delphi and Uncovering Your Talents,” is available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle.