I have been stuck in my reading for some time – working on the biography of Buckminster Fuller for some time now but it has been slow going. I decided to take on a lighter topic in the form of “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. It is the sequel to “First, Break All the Rules“. It follows a pattern of my favorite business books (i.e. “Good to Great“) in that it is based on lots of research condensed down. In this case it is based on Gallup study of 2 million people regarding how they do their work.
I have found the book enlightening in several regards. The thesis is that every person has particular talents (strengths) that have little to do with knowledge or skills. They are base talents such as communication, positive attitude, analysis, command, responsibility etc… The authors put forward that most of our culture is focused on shoring up weaknesses rather than enhancing our strengths. They suggest that the attitude that anyone can learn anything is preposterous – individuals have talents in particular areas and can achieve near perfect performance consistently in these areas. To expect that anyone can learn the same level of excellence in an area where they have no innate talents does not make sense.
I am inclined to agree. I have particular strengths around communication and I have used this strength in my current career helping to sell software. I am also strong in creativity and learning new skill, and I have leaned on both of these talents in most of my working life. I do have many weaknesses, but as the authors suggest, I have spent more time figuring out how to minimize these rather than actually trying to develop mastery of them. For example I don’t like to spend lots of time on analysis – going through every minute details of a problem before coming to a decision. Rather than trying to learn this unique skill I have instead depended on others around me that do have talent in this area.
The most beneficial part of the book for me so far has less to do with understanding my own strengths and more to do with recognizing strengths in others. I have often wondered why people just can’t see the vision that I am trying to communicate or why they take such apparently “wrong-headed” approaches to a problem. But by understanding each person’s unique strengths I am better able to understand how they view the world.
The style of the book is a little annoying – it takes a decidely “self-help” approach to delivering information – constantly repeating the same idea in a dozen different ways. But there are still some great ideas through it’s chapters.
By the way, the book comes with a free “Strengths Test” administered through the web. I actually did not take the test because I bought the book used and the test associated with my copy had already been used. So if you want take the test, you will need to purchase a new copy.