Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D
I read this book thanks to the recommendation of a friend of mine, but unfortunately I got the book as a library copy. In order to get the most out of this book (or, from what it gathers, any book in the related series by these authors), it is best either to buy the book yourself or to receive one as a gift from a friend or loved one. The reason why is that each book is coded with a unique bar code that allows only one person to take the online skills inventory that this book promotes. To read the book without being able to take the online test or receive results is missing a big part of the point of the book, and so I feel I must give fair warning about this fact to the good readers of the blog to avoid my mistake.
The book itself ends far better than it begins. It begins with a misunderstanding of the golden rule, which would indicate that the authors of this book are not profoundly deep students of Christianity, nor aware of the subtle nuance of meaning in what “treating others as you want to be treated” really means. This is unfortunate because this book in many ways is a stunning and eloquent defense of the golden rule in terms of knowing your own talents, respecting those of others (without judging them based on your own partial perspective), and seeking to fulfill the purpose for which God has put us on earth with ideal functions based on our particular suite of talents and natural abilities. As such, this book is far closer to the teaching of Jesus and Paul concerning gifts and talents and the functions of the Body of Christ than its authors probably realize.
This book is organized in an easy-to-read fashion, though the language used is a bit unfamiliar for those who are not well-acquainted with positive psychology. This book seeks to understand mental (and physical health) by looking at positive factors rather than negative ones. Those who thrive on negativity will probably not be pleased with this book, but those looking for positive suggestions on how to understand their own talents as well as seek to provide opportunities for others to achieve their best according to their strengths (rather than spend all their time and attention dealing with weaknesses) will find much to enjoy and ruminate over. This is not a book to be devoured quickly and then cast aside. It is a book to reflect upon.
The book is organized in an easy-to-read fashion, with three parts and seven chapters and numerous smaller subsections for easy transitioning from point to point. The introduction examines the strengths “revolution” as well as the focus on data that underlies the conclusions of the book–which ought to appeal to evidence-minded and statistically-inclined readers (like this reviewer). This data-driven focus is bookended in an excellent technical report that serves as the appendix for the book.
Part I of the book deals with examining “the anatomy of a strength,” and includes chapters on “strong lives” (focusing on strengths, rather than weaknesses) and “strength building,” how to turn your natural and enduring talents (a suitably biblical word) into functional skills with the acquisition of knowledge. Part II of the book deals with the discovery of the source of your strengths, where the StrengthsFinder profile is introduced (the test this book is designed around) and where the thirty four (!) themes are introduced and briefly elaborated upon, of which the test is designed to find the top 5. Part Three of the book deals with the practical aspect of “putting strengths to work,” and includes three chapters: one which answers frequently-asked questions, another which focuses on managing strengths and the final chapter filled with numerous insights on building strength-based organizations.
This last chapter is particularly insightful, both in its recognition of the need to develop numerous hierarchies of prestige rather than simply one hierarchy of power, and also to examine some of the reasons why the “Strengths Revolution” has not yet caught on. These reasons include: the comfort people have with mediocrity, the lack of interest people have in finding or created rigorous statistical data to back up their assertions, the general disinclination of most organizations (business or otherwise) to focus on ends rather than means and to harness the power of individualism to lead to better results. The relationship between a lack of focus on the talents and strengths of people and authoritarian leadership styles is something I have long recognized (from extensive personal experience) but this book delivers that insight powerfully and well. The harder question is what to do about it–how does one build the right kind of institutions in order to turn the vision of a better world into a reality? That is a mystery worth solving, a worthy quest, and this book is certainly a worthwhile introduction to that quest.