I’ve had StrengthsFinder in my Amazon wish list for years since I read an article discussing its strategy. In a nutshell, its philosophy is that you’ll find greatest success by taking full advantage of your strengths, not by overcoming your weaknesses. You should strive to seek out those areas where you will naturally succeed and that you will enjoy, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. This quote from the book really struck me:
In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention. Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness.
It turns out that I tend to be naturally pretty good at developing software user experiences. I did well in high school in math and science, and not so well in history. There’s clearly a benefit to concentrating on a challenge enough to overcome it, but the more we put the focus on strengths, the more likely we are to achieve something great. Would I be better off today if I’d had a history tutor, or attended science camp?
The book is really only a few pages long, and gives you a code so that you can access the online test. The test takes about 30 minutes and is well-done. At the end it tells you what your 5 strengths are. (I kinda wish it would show me my faults so that I could avoid them, or at least make excuses based on them.) Here are my 5 strengths, and this section’s going to get pretty personal as I reflect on them:
- Learner – I sure do love learning, as evidenced by this blog. I focus on projects and ideas the intrigue me, and doing so is enjoyable. The book also accentuates the process of learning and learning new things, but I think I love the outcome rather than the process, and I think I like depth more than breadth of learning. However, if there’s an important detail that no one else is taking care of, I’m happy to tackle it. I don’t get distracted by the less important.
- Analytical – I search for reasons and causes. Aside from the obvious points about being methodological, and having focus, it mentions this: “Instinctively, you truly enjoy instructing people. You prefer to invest your time in trainees or students who genuinely appreciate your carefully reasoned approach to a particular topic.” It’s true that I enjoy teaching older kids or adults, but not children as much.
- Harmony – These people search for consensus and agreement, and avoid conflict. I’d be curious to see why I scored high on this, because I’m actually quite competitive, and enjoy a debate in good fun. The description talks about enjoying working well on a team with people, and giving attention to various viewpoints before choosing a side, which fit me quite well.
- Responsibility – I do what I say I will do, and I’m committed to honesty and loyalty. “You really enjoy being given authority over projects, individuals, or groups.” Recently as I’ve been thinking about what I want in my long-term career, and “authority over projects” sums it up well.
- Relator – These people enjoy close relationships and working together.
What do I do now that I know my strengths? I’m not really sure. I generally already knew these strengths, and I was hoping for a better action plan. The book and report has a list of a dozen ideas for each strength, but I found that most of them are either slightly out of my control, obvious, or not right for me. One that I liked a lot is for the Analytical strength: “You may remain skeptical until you see solid proof. Your skepticism ensures validity, but others may take it personally. Help others realize that your skepticism is primarily about data, not people.” Nice, but not really life-changing.
In summary, I feel like I already had a pretty good understanding of my strengths, so this book and test ended up being too generic. I need someone to give me advice specific for a software engineer in my situation about what career moves are most likely to give me the greatest success. On the other hand, being able to share these thoughts so concretely with friends and coworkers may help us strengthen each other and know how to work well together.