Monday, March 16, 2009

Reading :: Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance
By Marcus Buckingham

Go Put Your Strengths to Work comes from the coauthor of First, Break all the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, neither of which I have read. I strongly suspect that they cover very similar ground, which can be summed in this passage:
The radical idea at the core of the strengths movement is that excellence is not the opposite of failure, and that, as such, you will learn little about excellence by studying failure. This seems like an obvious idea until you realize that, before the strengths movement began, virtually all business and academic inquiry was built on the opposite idea: namely, that a deep understanding of failure leads to an equally deep understanding of excellence. (p.5)
That is, Go takes the position that studying failure teaches us a lot about failure, but not much about excellence. That, the author says, is like diagnosing health problems but never learning how to exercise (p.11). Rather, the author says, we should study our own strengths and figure out how to reconfigure our jobs, organizations, and lives to leverage them. The alternative is to spend our time working on our weaknesses - that is, to work on becoming uniformly mediocre rather than excellent in a few areas.

If this sounds a lot like Drucker, it should: Drucker made this argument long ago. But Buckingham develops a set of heuristics for helping individuals determine their strengths. ("What does one of your strengths actually feel like to you?" asks one heuristic, and answers it with a set of bullets, p.90). Buckingham exhorts us to take charge of our own time, to stop feeling like victims (p.208), and to make our work revolve around our strengths rather than conforming ourselves to the work we're presented. Yes, he makes it sound easy. But at the same time, he acknowledges that reconfiguring our jobs could be really hard to achieve, and he suggests several persuasive strategies for working through this reconfiguration with superiors and subordinates.

So does Go read like a squishy self-help book? Sure, in spots. But those books have their uses. The heuristics help to put this book ahead of others I've seen, and I think they could be really useful for people who are still trying to figure out their place.


Aimée said...

I’ve read First, Break all the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, taken the StrengthFinder test, and even given it to my students to help them work toward their strengths in the classroom. No, it’s not new, but it’s a positive approach. What interests me is the applicability of business models in education.

Clay Spinuzzi said...

I agree. In my review queue is Drucker's classic The Effective Executive, which seems to be the Big Bang of business books. Lots of really interesting stuff there that was and is being developed in texts such as Go. If only I had twice the free time, I'd write a book on the subject!