Book Review: Strengths Finder 2.0

November 8, 2010

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Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What is a sundial in the shade?” – Benjamin Franklin

Do you really know what you are good at? Or are you, like most people, more aware of your failings than your strengths? And how much of your time is spent doing things you are really good at?

The truth is, most people (70% according to the Gallup organization) do not get to work at something they are good at. Most of their time is spent doing a job or duty which they find frustrating, difficult, or unintuitive. This costs them their sense of self-esteem, job satisfaction, and productivity, making them resent their work and perform poorly.

According to Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0
, this is a situation that can be remedied to the benefit of organization and individuals.Strengths Finder 2.0 is based on the premise that we should focus on our strengths, rather than spend all our time trying to compensate for our weaknesses. Do what you are good at, so you will enjoy it and do it exceptionally well. That way, you will be successful and happy. Seems simple enough, and fairly intuitive.

Glory to the Stubborn

Oddly, the concept of focusing on your strengths is not intuitive. It actually offends some people. The few people I’ve talked about this book with have expressed distaste at the idea of giving more value and weight to your natural talents. The idea seems contrary to our values.

I could go on a rant about how our society idolizes mediocrity and the status quo, encouraging us not to make any ripples and just keep our heads down, but I’ll save that for another day. We do have a tendency, however, to make heroes out of especially stubborn individuals who go to great lengths to overcome their weaknesses to pursue their dreams. We respect and admire those who pull themselves up and rise from the bottom to become great. And this is a good thing generally. I have no problem with this mentality, especially in the pursuit of something you want very badly. Also, shoring up the weaknesses that hold back your strengths is a wise strategy. For example, you can only get so far as a researcher with zero people skills; even if you hate dealing with people, you should probably learn something about interaction to further your ability to get grants (though a better strategy might be teaming up with someone who understands your research and is good with grant proposals).

All that said, consider this example. I am currently in a band with a singer, a bassist, and a guitarist (me). When we started, I played guitar and sang, but I wasn’t all that great at singing. I could have taken voice lessons and spent hours memorizing lyrics and vocal melodies (which don’t come naturally to me at all). I was improving, very, very slowly and with a disproportionate amount of work. All this would have taken a lot of time from my guitar playing, something I’m actually good at. In fact, it was detracting from my guitar. The result was mediocre guitar-playing and less-than-mediocre singing. So we made the wise decision of finding a dedicated singer. So now we have great singing and great guitar-playing.

Finding Your Talents so Your Can Develop Your Strengths

This basic concept, giving yourself the opportunity to do what you are naturally talented at, is the main argument of the book. The second component is helping people actually find their talents.

Most of professional culture, and indeed almost all assessments we take in life, simply tells us what we need to work on. Performance reviews are opportunities for bosses to point out your failings and weaknesses. Very rarely does anyone ever tell us, “Wow! You are really good at X, Y, and Z!” More often than not, they simply ignore positive results and harp on negative ones. The result is that many of us are not really aware of our strengths. At best, this simply means we don’t know what we’d be good at. At worst, we might think we are not exceptionally good at anything.

Without being aware of our talents, it is difficult to put ourselves in a position where we can leverage them, unless we simply get lucky and randomly end up in a job that works well with our inclinations.

Rath’s book therefore is only the smallest and least significant part of Strengths Finder 2.0. The real meat of the thing is the accompanying online strengths assessment, designed by Gallup after interviews with millions of people from every culture and job situation in the world. Using a unique access code from the book, you can log in to the assessment, and in 45 minutes you will have a list of 5 of your top talents.

What makes the StrengthsFinder 2.0 program unique is that it doesn’t just spit out a generic description of your talents. Based on the interaction of your other strengths and answers, it tailors the description to your unique manifestation of talents and abilities. It also provides a list of specific actions you can take now to start leveraging your talents and developing them into real strengths (and we know how much I love concrete actions).

My Talents

When I took the test, I found the questions a bit opaque at first. Some of the answers seemed impossible to choose between or unrelated, but I simply followed my inclinations. It is timed, forcing a more intuitive response that produces more accurate answers. The strengths that came up for me were:

  • Restorative: I get a kick out of finding inefficiencies and problems in systems and fixing them or making them more effective. Basically, I really enjoy streamlining processes and sorting things out for people. Probably explains why I love real-time strategy games so much.
  • Command: This one kind of surprised me. I tend to be a bit shy, rather than assertive, but when I actually am assertive, I really feel good about myself and have always done a fairly good job of leading people and organizing them. I seem to have a talent for inspiring others to action.
  • Learner, and Input: These were actually two separate ones. I enjoy the process of learning (no surprise, since I am always reading and trying new things), but I also enjoy having a ton of information at my disposal. A bit of a smarty-pants.
  • Achiever: I apparently really enjoy getting things done, tackling new challenges, and must always have some goal to work towards. The feeling of satisfaction I get from reaching a goal is short-lived, and I immediately set my sights on a new challenge. This one was not really a surprise at all.

So while some were obvious, others were things I never really thought of as talents, and Command in particular was not something I thought of myself as good at. Thinking about it, it seems that I am good at organizing people when I trust my authority, but since those two are so closely related, I always felt I was bad at getting people to work at something, even though I really enjoyed it. Obviously, the assessment provides much, much more information than I’ve revealed here. It was actually very eye-opening for me, and helped me see my talents from a variety of perspectives.

The Confidence that Comes from Knowing What You’re Good At

Just being aware of my talents has helped me point myself in the right direction. I am much more confident I know what I would like to end up doing and much more sure that I will actually enjoy it when I get there. More importantly, I know I shouldn’t waste time with jobs that don’t let me exercise my strengths, because I know it will mean I either won’t last very long or I will get bored and resentful.

I recommend that everyone read the book and take the assessment. If you’re dissatisfied about your current job/course of study/whatever, it will give you some insight into what you’d be good at and therefore enjoy and contribute a lot to. If you are simply unsure what to try out, it will give you some ideas and ways to keep yourself from getting stuck in a position where you can’t shine. Knowing your strengths also gives you insight into the best roles you can play in a team.

It is important you get a new copy of the book, since the access codes for the online assessment are unique and can only be used once per reader.

I’d love to hear about surprising talents you didn’t know you had, or maybe just confirmations of your already-existing strengths.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Najwa December 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Bought the book. Will let you know about my findings.

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Khaled December 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Cool. I’d love to hear if you think the assessment matches your picture of yourself.

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Patricia A. January 27, 2011 at 3:01 pm

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Great website! I think there are many valuable information and advices here. Along the same line, I came across the following website which I found interesting. Traditionally, personality tests such as MBTI have been used as career aptitude test. However, these tests have a very limited scope as they ignore many important factors such as person’s skills, values, and interests.

There have been many advancements in the area of career aptitude testing. Usage of artificial intelligence to evaluate suitability of a job for a person is one of the these techniques. You can take a complete version of the MBTI personality test plus many others such as memory, IQ, problem solving, and patience tests in OptYourLife. This website’s expert system tries to find the most suitable career path for you using neural network. Moreover, salary of different careers will be considered in the final analysis to provide a more insightful advice for you:

http://www.optyourlife [dot] com/

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Reply

Khaled January 28, 2011 at 2:34 am

Thanks Patricia for referring this tool. It sounds like an interesting website, and I'll check it out sometime. I'm glad you find my reviews useful and interesting. I'm always torn between the desire to categorize people to understand them and just judging everything in their own unique category. The former is easier, but the latter more fulfilling I think.

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