Saturday, 24 January 2015

#95 Strengths Finder 2.0

I was pretty thankful for the gift of Strengths Finder 2.0, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book by Tom Rath that I was sent before Christmas. I would often reflect upon my own strengths and weaknesses and how to carve out my place in the world, so I'd been looking forward to sitting down this Saturday morning and having a read of it.

The introduction was predictable enough. In a world where companies try to fit people into boxes and specific roles, employees are often told to prioritise their development in certain areas, regardless of each person's natural talents whereas a greater mutual awareness of those talents can really help to unlock the true potential and blahblahblah. I skipped a couple of pages and started reading the next section.

Now every copy of the book comes with a special password, which you can type in on the book's website and it lets you take a test, to find out what sort of a person you are, so I grabbed my phone, went to the site and keyed in the password. The test was straightforward enough. Given two statements and 20 seconds to think about it, click nearest the one that you feel is most true for you. The first question had something like "I like to make decisions quickly" one the left hand side and "I like to take my time and think carefully" on the right hand side.

Oh dear. 

You see, there are some questions that I will quite happily answer fast, without really even thinking about them. On the other hand, there are some questions that take years, maybe even a lifetime to answer and I would think about them a lot. I hovered my cursor over the first option... thought about it... hovered over the second option... thought about it a bit more... tried to imagine how many seconds had passed since I started reading the question so that I wouldn't run out of time. Eventually, I clicked firmly in the "neutral" area, right in the middle of the screen and moved on to the next question.

"I prefer having my own responsibility to complete a task". Well this was easy. I often felt challenged by other people, their constant demands, their chit chat, their relative lack of grammatical cohesion. I positioned the mouse squarely over the furthest left-hand category but then something happened. The faces of some of my most respected and loved colleagues popped into my mind. Their funny little quirks. The times they'd supported me or heaped praise upon me, even for little things. I couldn't bring myself to click. The seconds continued to count down and I knew that I had to make a decision, so I hurriedly clicked middle of the screen again and moved on to the next one.

On one side of the screen read "I have a commitment to growth" and on the other, "I have a commitment to my values". Well this is just stupid, I thought. Obviously everyone has to have a certain amount of commitment both to their own growth and to their own values. Focussing too strongly on either one seemed so obviously unhealthy, unrealistic and problematical that I quickly decided that the test was a waste of time, tossed the phone over to the other side of my bed, then picked it up again, headed over to the Dominos website instead and ordered a pizza. What type of base would you like? Thin & crispy or Deep pan? Easy, Deep pan. Next question.

While I ate, I mulled over the experience of the morning. It was a shame because I really did want to learn more about myself and I knew that sometimes I lost patience with surveys like this, so after lunch, I sat down properly with the laptop and logged back in to the site. So what if my viewpoints are heavily balanced? I thought. This was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, who knows, maybe taking a neutral viewpoint when faced with two extremes was even the right answer to it all. Maybe I'd get some kind of perfect score and get to talk at conferences about the importance of pressing ahead with an open mind and not feeling as thought you have to pick sides the whole time. One by one, I read and clicked through the questions. Some of them I answered quickly and some of them I took more time over. 

I completed the test in about half an hour. I answered every one of the 117 questions. It turned out that none of the questions were mutually exclusive, so I clicked neutral for all of them. Instead of receiving some helpful direction towards future learning, I got an error message saying that my overall response was too extreme for a meaningful result to be given. Typical, I thought. This stupid, stupid book. I had really wanted to find my strengths and in line with the very way of thinking that it was no doubt written to combat, it had tried to get me to achieve results in an overly specific way and then even when I completed the task as instructed, it threw my efforts back in my face.

Stupid book. Then again, not everyone is blessed with the gift of being able to phrase questions in a way that makes me amenable to answering them. I decided to cut the author and the situation some slack, as I really did want to get something out of the experience, so I picked the damned thing up and carried on reading it anyway.

Part II: Applying Your Strengths

This section was going to be harder for me because I didn't actually know what my strengths were yet. In the meantime, something else had happened. The font had gotten smaller. I'm not kidding, the text had actually become about two sizes smaller than during the first chapter, a tactic that I'm sure the personal development industry will jump on. Reel them in with exciting promises of success and then drop the font size. Maybe this was even why it had become a bestseller. I kept reading.

The rest of the book was divided into 34 sections, each one describing a personality theme, how a person with it might behave, how they can use that theme and how to work with people that have it. I read through every section and grouped them into three categories, the ones I felt were most like me, a bit like me and nothing like me. Identifying with these detailed descriptions of situations and people was much easier than choosing between the short, absolute statements from the online test. Lastly, I made little statements about myself next to each of the themes. Overall, I really enjoyed finding my strengths. Here is the result.

ACHIEVER - I want to achieve something every day. Even if it's just to get some rest
ANALYSER - I like to analyse things
COMMINICATOR - I communicate well in writing and efficiently in person
DELIBERATOR - I don't see life as a popularity contest. I see it as a minefield
FOCUSER - I set goals and like to have direction. I don't stand around chatting
INTELLECT - I enjoy time alone because I like to think

ADAPTER - I like to remain planless outside work but don't try to pull me in different directions too much
BELIEVER - I have beliefs but I don't always behave in an exemplary way
COMPETITOR - I like to compete but I don't like to win
CONNECTOR - I don't exist. Life exists and I just happen to be a part of it. I like my own space though
CONSISTENCY - If I like someone, I like them. I don't try to be too fair about who I like
DEVELOPER - I see the potential for growth in other people and nurture it to some extent
DISCIPLINE - I don't like the idea of discipline but I do see the benefit in integrity and following plans
EMPATHISER - I empathise a bit, sure
INCLUDER - I will include people in groups when I remember to do so
INDIVIDUALISER - I see the differences and unique qualities in people to some extent
LEARNER - I like to learn as I go, sure
RELATOR - I like my friends but I also like my own space
RESTORER - I like to think about problems a lot, so in a sense, that's me trying to solve them
SIGNIFICANT - I, like most people, want to be recognised to some extent
STRATEGIST - I'm not aware that I think any more or less strategically than most other people
SELF-ASSURANCE - I don't always act confidently but I have my own perspective

ACTIVATOR - I tend to think about things first rather than just diving straight in
ARRANGER - I don't arrange complex events that would require juggling things in my head
COMMANDER - I don't ask things of people unless it's really necessary or I'm very comfortable to do so
CONTEXTUALISER - I don't spend a lot of time looking back at the past
FUTURIST - I don't spend a lot of time looking into the future
HARMONISER - I am not particularly active in steering people out of conflict
IDEALIST - I see the value in execution. Anyone can have ideas
MAXIMISER - I don't strive to be the best at anything. There are too many people to do that
POSITIVIST - I am not overly positive
RESPONSIBLE - I don't have a lot of responsibility
CONVINCER - I don't win people over. If they like what I say, fine. If they don't, fine

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