Two months ago (May 2015) I read the book First, Break All the Rules, which was recommended to me by a manager where I work. This book talks about the results of over 80,000 surveys of workers and managers, in an attempt to find how people can be their best selves. The authors use the term talent, defined as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied. This is what drives you and defines how you think.” The main thesis of the book is that you should play to peoples’ talents, not “fix” weaknesses.
I shared this concept of various types of talents in my recent CodeStock presentation, which prompted a conversation with a new professional acquaintance. He said he had read a related book, StrengthsFinder, and said there was a survey that helps you find your particular strengths (talents) and how to make the most of them.
Buying the book (about $15 on Amazon) gives you a one-time access code to take the online assessment. There are 147 Likert scale questions where you pick the statement that you most agree with. It took about 30 minutes to complete, and each question was only shown for 20 seconds (to stem over-analyzing).
As with any such test that uses Likert scale questions…
- There were several statements that I couldn’t agree more with.
- There were questions where I agreed with both (so I chose “Neutral”).
- There were questions where I disagreed with both (again, I chose “Neutral”).
At the end, you get a PDF summary of your top five strengths. The summary provides more information about each strength, what people that have the strength typically think, and some tips for making the most of that strength.
You have to pay more money (starting at $79) to get more information beyond the top five. The book provides the same summaries and tips for all 34 strengths, so if you want to learn more about those areas — presumably because you work with people that have different strengths than you — I would recommend buying the book. If you just want information about yourself, save a few bucks and buy an access code for $10.
My only complaint so far is that I didn’t get to see the distribution of my strengths. For example, was my second-strongest strength a distant second?
Here are my top five strengths. I’ve quoted the summary paragraph from the report I received.
Because of your strengths, you usually are the person on the team who instinctively conducts one final check. Your attention to detail and your desire to eliminate careless errors explain why you do this. It’s very likely that you inspect and re-inspect your work to eliminate avoidable mistakes. You pride yourself in making sure everything is in order. You probably are disappointed with yourself when someone points out an error you failed to detect. Driven by your talents, you are sometimes adept — that is, masterful — at identifying your tasks, putting them in order of importance, then executing them one by one. Chances are good that you design orderly steps and processes to handle various activities. As a result, you discharge your duties and perform your tasks efficiently. Instinctively, you have a special knack for streamlining repetitious activities. You aim to handle every detail, requirement, or deadline efficiently and without any hassles. Prior to starting a task, you usually define the rules or procedures that those involved are expected to follow. Because you prefer to work with your friends, having a clear plan makes it easy to do whatever needs to be done. This is one reason why your friendships usually remain intact once the job is completed.
Pretty much anyone that’s spent time getting to know me is probably nodding their heads right now at this one. This is probably why I’m well-suited to my current position at a medical device company. I would probably fare well in any process-oriented industry. This habit plays into many aspects of my life — coding, writing, and teaching fitness classes.
By nature, you strive to be a dependable person. You willingly assume accountability for tasks, projects, assignments, or commitments. You please people by being reliable. You accept additional obligations and perform these duties in a friendly and pleasant manner. Because of your strengths, you yearn to be given additional duties. You expect to be held accountable for your productivity, profit, behavior, comments, and actions. Instinctively, you follow your conscience to do what is right and ethical. This takes effort and time, which you are willing to give. You contend that rushing through tasks tarnishes the quality of your results. Mediocrity is unacceptable to you. You are hardwired to work at a measured pace for as long as it takes to do things properly. Some people say you are being stubborn because you refuse to move faster. You are likely to reply, “I’m the one who’s accountable, not you.” It’s very likely that you consistently work at assignments and chores to their conclusion. People have confidence that you will see whatever you do through to the very end. Driven by your talents, you sometimes feel twinges of guilt when certain tasks are done carelessly. Perhaps you want to be associated with quality. You might be disappointed in yourself when you compromise some of your beliefs about right and wrong.
Responsibility also relates well to Discipline. I would say it’s generally true that I feel my reputation is on the line for anything I do (especially for someone else), and I want to do my best.
Driven by your talents, you are fascinated by data. You examine numbers line by line. You usually know how grades, profits, or budgets are calculated. You probably use established criteria, formulas, or equations to determine scores, ratings, or rankings. Chances are good that you likely are the team member who has fun discovering recurring sequences of numbers in data. You detect subtle numerical configurations others cannot see. Once you find these hidden or missing pieces of the puzzle, you figure out why a project, theory, or mechanism works or fails to work. You often use numerical data to justify action plans, proposed solutions, budget requests, or responses to emerging trends. Instinctively, you try to collect pertinent and precise data. You may refuse to stop searching until you find accurate facts. You might collect information that is relevant to your life, your work, or your studies. Because of your strengths, you may offer assistance to people who are struggling to assign a level of importance or urgency to various jobs. Sometimes you help them break a big project into separate manageable tasks. Perhaps you outline the order in which they need to complete these smaller chores. It’s very likely that you are energized each time you isolate a recurring set of numbers in data. You realize these sets have meaning. They contain questions, answers, trends, opportunities, and mysteries.
Given my profession, this one was not a surprise. My graduate work focused on statistical models and machine learning, which definitely played to this strength. My biggest battle is realizing I don’t have time to analyze everything and must trust the opinions and findings of others.
It’s very likely that you help keep the peace on your team by doing your share of each day’s assignments. You generally perform your tasks so no one in the group has to do chores you overlooked, ignored, or forgot. Driven by your talents, you usually finish your tasks before they are due. You methodically remove predictable and recurring time pressures from your life. You keep the final deadline, as well as intermediate due dates, top of mind. You clarify which tasks deserve your attention and which ones do not. Having a detailed game plan and implementing it with precision frees you to produce desired outcomes again and again. Instinctively, you are pleased with yourself when you can make unhurried yet measured progress. You are likely to feel that this approach permits you to do some of your finest work. By nature, you enjoy being physically and/or mentally active. This is especially true when you are assigned tasks to finish by day’s end. As long as the overall workload is evenly distributed among people, you tend to be willing and eager to perform your daily chores. Because of your strengths, you naturally gravitate to situations where a clear plan of action exists. Knowing that everyone involved agrees to follow the rules, the deadlines, the goals, or the expectations usually eases your worries. You tend to be more effective when recurring processes and procedures give you some control over how you perform a task. You carefully pace your use of time as well as your expenditure of mental and physical energy.
Again going back to the concept of a playbook, I like to have processes I can trust. I also like to leave myself time to do a job well, and dislike any situation that my handling of a task causes me to be the bottleneck. The way the paragraph is written also resonates with my “supporter” identity claim: I’d rather be the oil in the machine than the driving gear.
Chances are good that you are willing to work with your coworkers, classmates, teammates, family members, and friends. You realize everyone sees opportunities, problems, solutions, and events differently. While you have opinions, you refrain from imposing them on others. You are good-natured — that is, you have a pleasant, cheerful, and cooperative disposition. By nature, you occasionally collect bits and pieces of information. At the time, the value of this material may not be apparent. In specific cases, you have found it useful to turn to some specialists for help. Perhaps these individuals can provide you with enough direction so you can ask some questions, render a few decisions, or try to map courses of action without upsetting anyone in the process. You avoid angering certain people by consulting with them before doing anything. Instinctively, you fondly recall the attention or care given to you by an educator or coach. The individual probably encouraged you as a youth. Consequently, you have an easy time establishing a rapport with others. Your personable style and optimistic attitude attract people. It’s very likely that you periodically seek out experts when you need information or guidance to decide on a proper course of action. You might study the difficult-to-understand words used most frequently by these specialists. Armed with a new language, you may approach several individuals to discover when your ideas about what to do align with theirs. Perhaps your intent is to benefit from their expertise rather than argue that your approach is correct regardless of what they think. Driven by your talents, you are happy to do exactly what is assigned to you, as long as you sense you are not being asked to carry more than your fair share of the workload. Checking those tasks off your list brings you much pleasure, and it helps you get along with others who notice your close attention to the work required of you.
The book Why Marriages Succeed for Fail (I read this before getting married) already put me in this category, as my wife and I are what the author calls a validating couple. I deeply value personal connections from encouraging mentors. The concept of asking for forgiveness rather than permission doesn’t always sit well with me, because I want to consider how others would be impacted by my actions. I also have a healthy discontent for zero-sum games: I seek out win-win situations. Having this talent is why I don’t excel as an evangelist.
Considering others in the industry have heard of and used this survey, I think there’s value in using this tool to know one’s strengths. Also note that it’s Gallup-backed, and there seems to be quite a bit of data behind it. I’ve forwarded the results to my manager and shared the results with fellow software industry peers as well. You never know when you might be looking for someone (or someone might be looking for you) with a particular strength.