Thursday, February 26, 2009


When I started looking at research to decide what interested me, I came upon the subject of Positive Organizational Studies (POS). Building on the work coming from Positive Psychology, this area of research focused on looking at what good companies did well instead of diagnosing where poor or ailing companies were suffering (just as positive psychology focuses on wellness and strength instead of illness and weakness). I loved it, but in the end, I moved away from the subject simply because, as one professor, organizational behavior research often seems like too much "navel gazing" (meaning looking too much at minute details instead of the bigger picture). Still I find the mindset very invigorating.

This past week, I came across a book my mother-in-law had called StrengthsFinder 2.0. I knew it must have come from that school of positive psychology, and after reading it I saw that the author was a graduate of Michigan, which is one of the major players in that area of research. Since I love reading about self improvement and ways to help people accomplish it, I picked up a copy of that book as well as Strengths Based Leadership which focuses on using a strength set understand what sort of leadership style a person has. Each book comes with an access code to the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test, which takes about 35 minutes to answer before it gives the five strengths. My five were Maximizer, Individualization, Strategic, Context, and Futuristic. The leadership book breaks those into four areas: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. None of my five fell into Executing, Maximizer (my strongest) falls under influencing, Individualization falls under Relationship Building, and the rest fall under Strategic Thinking.

I loved that I wrote a post about potential days before taking the test, and so much of my result focused on my desire to maximize my own and others' potential. Maximizer itself focuses on maximizing strengths. I felt sure I would have other strengths, but the ones I thought fit me correlate very nicely into the five I have, especially when the five are put together.

If I had to boil the five strengths down into who I am, I would say it something like this: I like to help people improve themselves and their lot in life by getting to know them, seeing where they excel or have potential to do so, and encouraging them to focus in those areas. Basically, the goal of the book is very much the goal of my life, to help people focus on the positive and the good in themselves and make the most of it. Their research fits very well with my own experience: people find greater happiness and fulfillment when they work on improving strengths and doing what they love than if they focus on their weaknesses and getting rid of their problems. Focusing on strength often has a way of overshadowing or eradicating those very weaknesses. It might not make them go away, but it might help a person realize a better way to move past them.

One great piece of advice I got from a speaker about nine years ago was, "Sinatra never set up his piano." What he meant was that Frank Sinatra knew his talent - to sing and play music - and he only focused on those talents. If Sinatra had spent more time learning to get his piano ready, he might never have become Ole Blue Eyes to the world. As StrengthsFinder 2.0 states and I have seen, being well-rounded sounds great, but in the end, it is those who are truly exceptional at a particular skill or set of skills that we remember, and that we follow. People look up to and admire those who have maximized their talents much more so than those who have spent a lot of time becoming a jack-of-all-trades. Surgeons don't sterilize instruments and operating rooms (nor would we want them to) - they focus on knowing how to use those instruments in that operating room to remedy some internal problem.

Ours is a world of specialists, probably more so than ever before. I do believe in knowing a little about a lot of things, but I have learned more and more the value of knowing a lot about a few things. As I begin my career in research, I will hopefully become a master of my area. I might even become a name known for a given area of study. One thing is sure, though: I will never accomplish that feat if spend my time on too many different subjects instead of focusing.

-- Robert


le35 said...

It's interesting to me that you say that you're wxcited to become a master in your field, and you're right, you probably will. Howver, I love to learn a little bit about lots of new things. I would rather play four instruments tolerably well than one instrument exceptionally well. It's the story of my life.

Robert said...

I've tried the jack-of-all-trades route in my life, and I see Rath's point in how ineffective it can be as a leader. Those teams and initiatives I have led well generally were those where I led from strength - strength of knowledge, strength of experience, strength of passion, or any combination of the three. I know that building on things I am already good at has served me very well in my working life as well as my personal life. I don't think the book precludes the notion of learning other things. It simply suggests that a career path should be focused on strengths to optimize success, and I would agree with that from experience.

C.Flower said...

I agree with you Robert - to an extent.

More people should probably focus on what they're awesome at. I like the Sinatra theory. I'll pay it heed as I flounder to finish my story on deadline this afternoon.

Having said that, it's nice every now and then to flirt with new hobbies. For example: I had no clue I was a decent photographer until the weekly paper I worked for forced me to take photos for my stories.

Dabbling is fun!

But I agree. Focusing leads to productivity. Hence my closing this screen and plowing through this next assignment...

We can't all be Renaissance men, I suppose.