Do what makes you strong

Umbria-Toscana June 2007I’ve been a fan of the strengths-based approach to life improvement since First, Break All the Rules, but it wasn’t until the most recent book in the series, Go Put Your Strengths to Work that I was finally able to get some real traction from it.

The key was the exercise where you go through an entire week writing down for each task you did whether you loved it or loathed it. Whether it made you feel stronger and weaker. It seems pretty obvious, but it’s very useful to remind yourself to pay attention to what’s good for you and what’s not.

What you do at the end of the week, then, is summarize and generalize the things you love to do so it matches your criteria. During the week you write down “loved talking on the phone with Simon”, and these other things you did, and at the end of the week, you synthesize that into “love talking to smart people i care about on the phone when we talk about something meaningful”, for example. You make it general and specific enough at the same time. And then you do the same for the “loathed” list.

Kovalam, India February 2007One of the surprises to me was that I really enjoy being on the phone, hence the example above. A couple years back some guys I was sharing an office with remarked at how the way I communicated with my customers on the phone was really special. I could get away with saying things to my customers that they’d never dream of. I didn’t make much of it at the time, but going over my “Loved to do” list, I noticed that there was a whole lot of phone conversations on it.

It made me realize that I enjoy phone conversations even more than face-to-face conversations for certain things. When I’m on the phone, I’m always using a headset, I walk all around the house, I move, gesticulate, walk up to the whiteboard and take notes, make a cup of tee if I need that, and so on. I can let go of any concerns over how I look or use my body, and just be present in the conversation. So there’s a strength right there, that I wasn’t aware of.

Flora i TannisOnce you have your strengths down, black on white so to speak, it gets a lot more difficult to ignore them, and even more difficult to suffer more of the things you loathe.

The book overall is okay, but it’s way bloated. It’s north of 250 pages, but would be much better at 50. I know Philip Greenspun has been singing this song for more then a decade, but something has to change about the publishing industry. It’s a waste of people’s time, a waste of trees, a waste of fuel shipping those extra pages around.

The above was pretty much the only specific value I got from the book, though if you’re in a traditional job with bosses and such I suspect some of the later chapters may be relevant to you.