I like reading books on planning and analysis, especially business, and so this week I picked up “Now Discover Your Strengths” a book that discusses the 34 different “strengths” people have, and how to manage them.
To give an example, one strength/core competency/quality is “Competition”, as in, do you really thrive under competition? If so, their test (which is at the core of the book) would show this to be one of your top five. In turn, the most satisfying jobs will play to your strengths (ie, those with a form of competition/reward). Another, “Command”, involves a strength for “taking charge”, meaning that person would thrive in a situation when others look to him (or her) for guidance. And so on.
The real benefit of an analysis like this is targeting your best career or place in a career, and this test does that by focusing on your top five strengths out of the 34. For example, a person who scores low on Competition probably would not be interested, or do well, in some type of competitive field like sports or sales.
An example from the book might help clarify this: One person working in the Theatre scored high on “Significance” (one who seeks to be recognized by others, which is somewhat self-evident!) As a top score, the Arts made sense for that person. But then he became a lawyer. Of course, with a score of that type, it was no surprise he excelled as a trial lawyer, wowing juries with his presentations. But when it came time to expand his practice, he realized he needed to find someone to handle the dry aspects of law (such as contracts), so a person who thrived on minutiae (like someone featuring a “Learner” or “Input” personality strength – see the Wikipedia article for a list of the 34) would be best. That person found, they went on to have a successful practice.
This highlights another aspect of the test and book – these are not personality traits as such, but strengths useful to business. There is nothing in here about procrastinating, for example, due in part to this test being a measure of strengths in business. This makes sense, as the list derives from about 2 million surveys from professionals.
The book is actually a thin veneer for the test (which you can take online to find out how you scored in your greatest strengths). It starts by explaining the strengths; what they are, how they fit, and then what the actual strengths are in detail, along with case examples. The book concludes with a section on how managers can related to all the 34 “types” to maximize everyone’s potential.
The book also doubles as a free ticket to the online test – in each book (physical, not the digital copies, as near as I can tell), there is a code to take a free test. One book, one code – and if the book is used, you can guarantee the code has been used. For that reason, you need to buy it or the updated one (Strengths Finder 2.0, which I’ve yet to read) brand new:
However, as one other reviewer pointed out, you can do it yourself for free, working through the book’s list, and trying to apply each to you. I did that, going through the list and quickly separating the ones that in no way applied to me from the ones that somewhat did, then going through that smaller list in detail, and winnowing out the best fits. In the end, I came up the five that I felt best described me and my cores strengths.
Then I took the test.
It turned out that the 5 top strengths I felt applied best to me were wrong on 4 (according to the test, only “Strategic” was in common with my own pick and theirs). What’s more, I didn’t like their choices as much as I liked mine (in all fairness, I did see some benefits, since “Futuristic”, my new top choice by them, did fit in with what I enjoyed discussing and thinking about).
Were they wrong, or was I? Well, the online test works by giving you 20 seconds to pick from a total of five choices on a linear scale, sometimes with contrasting questions:
Here, what if you love to read AND like to figure out how things work (notice it isn’t “love” and “love”, but “love” and “like”, a distinction that is probably very important). If you feel equally about both (or delay 20 seconds) you register as neutral; otherwise, liking one means dissing the other (I don’t mind sharing this question, as I expect you will never see it on your test – I suspect there are myriad permutations for each answer, and so you’ll likely get a much different test from me).
There are 177 of these types of questions in total, and while many of the questions are straightforward, with polar opposites at each end, some require head scratching, which I suspect helps make the test accurate and remove bias.
And since it’s Gallup, a company known for polling, I have to imagine their results work well, and even get past my own bias, and the four “strengths” I liked that didn’t match the four that I really am. Frankly, as I look over the list, I have to admit the list is quite accurate with what I enjoy doing in a day, what I commonly thing/talk about, etc, so maybe they do know a little something about testing!
After the test, you get a series of reports you can download: “Your Signature Themes” is a discussion of your top five; “Strengths Insight Guide” gets you thinking about the results through explanations and self-help questions; and “Strengths Insight and Action-Planning Guide” whose goal is to analyze the strengths in depth and how to make them work for you. As well, the site provides an “Ideas for Action” checklist that gives you a list of things to try to maximize your strengths (such as finding people to hear about your futuristic ideas, as I was told to do for my key trait “Futuristic” – TEDx, here I come!)
In the end, as much as I liked my old selections, I get the feeling that the actual test was more concrete and removed bias (otherwise known as ‘moi’). As I read it over, I find myself saying things like “yeah, that explains my hobby/youth/favorite thing/etc”. And it’s possible my choices may be near the top five without being part of them. However, the test only gives me my top five – plenty to work on for a lifetime of strength building.
Is it scientific? Is it a technically competent horoscope? I believe they know their stuff, and I look forward to working with the listed traits to build on them. In fact, it’s a small price to pay for such an analysis of what you enjoy and where your strengths lie. And the result? Like the lawyer, you still have any number of jobs open to you, but you can find the exact facet of each that plays to your strengths – and the benefit there is that you do what you enjoy (they are after all strengths honed by years of your own interest), and do something well, likely much better than the average – which is also a sure trick for success.
So, buy the book, take the test, and see if it helps. You can go directly go to their site and take the test for $9.99 and 35 minutes of your time (but you’ll likely want a copy of the book for reviewing). Certainly, if it gives you insight into why certain parts of your job are uninteresting, and lets you focus on changing that, it’s paid for itself many times over. And if it lets you figure out your dream job, even more so. All for the price of a book. Do so: it’s well worth the small effort for such a big reward.