Why not suggest some business books?
In my opinion, whether as a gift to or from someone else or one you give yourself, these ten are among the essentials, listed in title alpha order:
Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage
Scott Keller and Colin Price
Beyond Performance Management: Why, When, and How to Use 40 Tools and Best Practices for Superior Business Performance
Jeremy Hope and Steve Player
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: Essentials
The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor
Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
They would be most welcome!
Here is a recent post featured online by the Drucker Exchange (Dx), a platform for bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management.
To check out a wealth of resources and subscribe to its online newsletter, please click here.
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For Peter Drucker, New Year’s resolutions came in August. Or least that’s when he liked to take a look back at the 12 months just gone by.
“I’ve learned to sit down with myself for two weeks in August and review my work over the past year,” Drucker revealed in Managing the Nonprofit Organization. “Where should I concentrate next year so as not only to give my best but also to get the most out of it?
Over this past year, we here at the Drucker Exchange have presented a lot of Drucker’s notable insights on management, economics and politics, among other things. To usher in the coming year, we’d like to review three lesser-trumpeted but highly valuable Drucker tips that readers might consider incorporating into their own resolution lists.
1. If you’re doing something really well, but it’s not really a fit with your values, ditch it.
“What one does well—even very well—and successfully may not fit with one’s value system,” Drucker wrote, in a passage flagged in Joe’s Journal earlier this year. “I was doing extremely well as a young investment banker in London in the mid-1930s; it clearly fitted my strengths. Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager. . . . Despite the continuing Depression, I quit—and it was the right thing to do. Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.”
2. Never forget that people, including your employees and bosses, often do not get what you’re saying. But talking to people in terms of their experience can help.
“Just as the human ear does not hear sounds above a certain pitch, so does human perception altogether not perceive what is beyond its range of perception,” Drucker noted in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. (Misunderstandings were something we asked about early this summer—hoping we’d be understood .) “One can only communicate in the recipient’s language or altogether in his terms. And the terms have to be experience-based. It, therefore, does very little good to try to explain terms to people if the terms are not of their own experience.”
3. If an inside voice says “whoa there” after you’ve made some decision, then hang on—for a moment, at least.
Drucker said that wise executives know to heed the “inner voice, somewhere in the bowels, that whispers” a warning sound. “Nine times out of 10 the uneasiness turns out to be over some silly detail,” Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive. “But the 10th time one suddenly realizes that one has overlooked the most important fact in the problem, has made an elementary blunder, or has misjudged altogether.” Still, this was no excuse for inaction: “The effective decision-maker does not wait long—a few days, at the most a few weeks.”
What work-related resolutions do you plan for the coming year?
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Here is a recent article from the Drucker Exchange (the Dx), an online resource that hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. To learn more about the Dx and the Institute as well as to check out their resources and sign up for a free subscription to its online newsletter, please click here.
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Ever since Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble partnered up and launched an ill-fated private detective business, negotiating personal relationships within a work setting has proven tricky. The latest evidence comes in the form of a resignation by Liam Fox, Britain’s defense secretary. Fox resigned, according to a recent Wall Street Journal, “amid an intensifying controversy” over a friend who was alleged to have acted as an unofficial adviser.
“Mr. Fox’s relationship with Adam Werritty has been under intense scrutiny in recent days,” the Journal reported, “after the defense minister acknowledged that his former housemate and best man at his wedding attended several official meetings and used a business card that described himself as an adviser—a role he doesn’t hold.” Fox, for his part, conceded that he’d allowed his personal and business interests “to become blurred.”
Peter Drucker well understood the power of workplaces to create a sense of community—and to foster friendship. “Work, since time immemorial, has been the means to satisfy man’s need for belonging to a group and for a meaningful relationship to others of his kind,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Challenges. “A man can work very well with somebody whom he never sees away from the job, and for whom he feels neither friendship nor warmth nor liking. . . . But the fellow worker can also be a close friend with whom one spends as many hours away from work as possible, with whom one goes hunting or fishing, spends one’s vacation, spends one’s evenings, and shares much of one’s life.”
Where Drucker drew the line, however, was in the realm of superiors becoming too chummy with subordinates. “Men who build first-class executive teams are not usually close to their immediate colleagues and subordinates,” Drucker noted in The Effective Executive. “Picking people for what they can do rather than on personal likes or dislikes, they seek performance, not conformance. To insure this outcome, they keep a distance between themselves and their close colleagues.”
The quintessential example of an executive who maintained such a distance was Alfred Sloan, the longtime head of General Motors. “Sloan had no friends within the GM group,” Drucker wrote. “He never invited them to his home. Unless it was a business meeting with a clear business agenda, he did not even sit down to a meal with any of them. He never accepted an invitation to any of their homes, even on business trips to their hometowns.” To be a chief executive, Sloan felt, was “incompatible with friendship and social relations.”
Here’s a recent post by the folks the Drucker Exchange (the Dx) that hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005), “the father of modern management.”
“The Dx was first published as Drucker Apps in 2009 (see Dx archives). Renamed and reconfigured in October 2010, the Dx is now designed to stimulate a discussion of current events that is illuminated by Peter Drucker’s timeless teachings. It is a blog for people who want to get informed, involved and inspired to convert ideas into action.”
In several dozen previous posts, I’ve shared a wide variety of opinions about what innovation and creativity are and do. Once again as is generally the case, Peter Drucker was at least 15-20 years ahead of his time, providing the “shoulders” to which a 12th century French monk, Bernard of Chartres, once referred and on which so many prominent business thinkers now stand. In the article that follows, the focus is on Mozart but — once again — through the prism of Drucker’s original insights.
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“They showed no corrections of any kind. Not one. He had simply written down music already finished in his head.” This line, from the film version of Amadeus, is how mediocre composer Antonio Salieri describes a musical score by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In real life,
Mozart’s work had plenty of false starts. Nevertheless, the idea of creativity being nearly heaven-sent is a persistent one across many fields. The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, a new book by professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University, Hal Gregersen of INSEAD and Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, offers a heftily-researched look at how innovation and creativity work. “Becoming a more innovative thinker takes patience and hard work,” explains an article about the book on CNNMoney. “Groundbreaking ideas, even those that look like bolts from the blue, usually come from painstaking preparation.”
This was a concept that Peter Drucker frequently emphasized, most prominently in his 1985 classic Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Companies that innovate successfully don’t view inspiration as mysterious and elusive—or get caught “waiting around,” as Drucker put it, “for the muse to kiss you.”
“They view it as the result of concerted effort and sound processes. “Most of creativity is just hard and systematic work,” Drucker told an interviewer in 2000. “Innovation has to have a systematic approach.”
That approach doesn’t even have to be fleet-footed. “While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which very bright people so often confuse with ‘creativity,’ the plodder puts one foot in front of the other and gets there first,” Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive.
Drucker ultimately identified a very particular course for the plodder to travel by spelling out seven specific sources of innovative opportunity.
“The line between these seven source areas . . . are blurred, and there is considerable overlap between them,” Drucker wrote. “They can be likened to seven windows, each on a different side of the same building.” They are:
Unexpected events (successes or failures)
Incongruities (or the difference between what is and what everybody assumes something to be)
Process needs (where you perfect a process that already exists or replace a link that is weak)
Disruptions in industry or market structure
Changes in perception
New knowledge (both scientific and nonscientific)
For those who are relatively unfamiliar with Peter Drucker’s work, I highly recommend The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, published by Harper (2008). t is available in a softbound edition and for sale by Amazon for only $11.42
Here is another thought-provoking article featured by the the Drucker Exchange (the Dx), a website that “hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. The Dx was first published as Drucker Apps in 2009 (see Dx archives). Renamed and reconfigured in October 2010, the Dx is now designed to stimulate a discussion of current events that is illuminated by Peter Drucker’s timeless teachings. It is a blog for people who want to get informed, involved and inspired to convert ideas into action.”
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The traditional industry model is built on institutional loyalty. The new “free agent” model is built on individualism. But neither of these, according to an article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, “creates the conditions for collaborative trust that business today requires.”
And so the piece — by Paul Adler, Charles Heckscher and Laurence Prusak—calls for a “new type of organization that excels at combining the knowledge of diverse specialists” to create “a collaborative community.”
Successful examples of such collaborative communities, the authors say, can be found at IBM, Citibank, NASA and Kaiser Permanente. What these places have in common are, among other things, an “ethic of contribution,” a “shared purpose,” and an “infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded.”
While Peter Drucker rarely wrote about “collaboration” per se, he certainly captured its spirit. “The modern organization,” he wrote in his own HBR essay 19 years ago, “cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.”
Beyond that, Drucker hit on many of the same components of collaboration that HBR highlights. For instance, the ethic of contribution, as we’ve noted before, was one that Drucker frequently stressed. “The question is not: ‘What do I want to contribute?’” Drucker declared. “It is not: ‘What am I told to contribute?’ It is: ‘What should I contribute?’”
Likewise, imbuing an organization with a sense of shared purpose was also something Drucker considered to be essential. “Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values,” Drucker asserted in The New Realities. “Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob.”
And Drucker devoted a lot of thought to how organizations should foster what HBR calls the “infrastructure of collaboration.” “The knowledge worker. . . is usually a specialist,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “By itself, however, a specialty is a fragment and sterile. Its output has to be put together with the output of other specialists before it can produce results. The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his speciality effective. This means he must think through who has to use his output and what the user needs to know and to understand to be able to make productive the fragment the specialist produces.”
Here’s a recent post by the folks the Drucker Exchange (the Dx) that hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. The Dx was first published as Drucker Apps in 2009 (see Dx archives). Renamed and reconfigured in October 2010, the Dx is now designed to stimulate a discussion of current events that is illuminated by Peter Drucker’s timeless teachings. It is a blog for people who want to get informed, involved and inspired to convert ideas into action.
In previous posts, I’ve expressed my opinion that so-called “indispensable” people tend to create bottlenecks. In the article that follows, we are provided with at least a partial explanation of why they can also be so “fussy, impolite or otherwise disagreeable.”
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No one likes a fussy, impolite or otherwise disagreeable coworker. But dealing with someone like that can be tricky, especially if that person excels at his or her assignment.
Michael Feuer, former CEO of OfficeMax, has published a new book called The Benevolent Dictator, which examines this and other challenges of managing people. The real conundrum, as Feuer told IndustryWeek, is when the jerks in the office “are terrific and get the job done.”
And yet Drucker, like Feuer, also understood that successful enterprises often have to live with people’s flaws, including their personality defects. Both U.S. Army General George Marshall and former General Motors Chairman Alfred Sloan “were highly demanding men, but both knew what matters is the ability to do the assignment,” Drucker explained. “If that exists, the company can always decide the rest. If it does not exist, the rest is useless.”
One key is to structure the organization so that those who rub others the wrong way have minimal contact with their colleagues. “A good tax accountant in private practice might be greatly hampered by his inability to get along with people,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “But in an organization such a man can be set up in an office of his own and shielded from direct contact with other people.”
This build-on-strengths approach, Drucker noted, applies all the way up to the highest levels of government or commerce. “In picking members of their cabinets, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman said, in effect, ‘Never mind the personal weaknesses. Tell me first what each of them can do,’” Drucker wrote. “It may not be coincidence that these two presidents had the strongest cabinets in 20th century U.S. history.
• Manage your time and your energy, not your work
• Know your priorities
• Do first things first
• Do not multi-task
• Focus on (leverage) strengths, both yours and others’
He then asserts that, above all, it is imperative to “replace the quest for success with the quest for contribution.”
The critical question is not, therefore, “How can you achieve?” but “What can you contribute?”
Some people seem obsessed with “success” and, worse yet, with success measured according to how others determine it. Their obsession with obtaining approval or at least acceptance is unnerving.
Drucker would urge them to focus on (a) what they can contribute and (b) what they must do to contribute even more.
Meanwhile, Oscar Wilde would add, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Yes, You Can Make Performance Reviews Worthwhile
….and less odious for all parties. The key is to concentrate first and foremost on employees’ strengths.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rick Wartzman for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine’s “The Drucker Difference” series (April 8, 2011). To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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A few weeks ago, the head of the federal Office of Personnel Management took on what for many people is the bane of organizational life: performance reviews.
When it comes to setting employee standards, giving appraisals, and rating and compensating people, the processes now in place across the government “have dehumanized management to a degree that we can no longer ignore,” the office’s director, John Berry, declared in a speech delivered at a major interagency conference.
Peter Drucker saw this problem long ago, and not just in the public sector. “For a superior to focus on weakness, as our appraisals require him to do, destroys the integrity of his relationship with his subordinates,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic The Effective Executive.
For Drucker, in fact, assessing an employee’s performance should always begin with someone’s strengths, not with his or her weaknesses—an emphasis picked up decades later by Marcus Buckingham, Gallup’s Tom Rath, and others. “The effective executive makes strength productive,” Drucker asserted. “He knows that one cannot build on weakness.”
And yet most traditional appraisal systems, Drucker explained, are based on the work of clinical psychologists. “The clinician is a therapist trained to heal the sick,” Drucker noted. “He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than what is right, with the patient.”
Behind the Murky Vail
This week’s threat of a government shutdown aside, the federal performance-management system is full of idiosyncrasies, including a civil service bureaucracy that largely rewards longevity in a job. Most companies don’t have to deal with such strictures or the messy politics often associated with them. But one frustration common to many enterprises—whether a business, government operation, or nonprofit—is the lack of transparency and consistency that people sense when they are evaluated.
“For many employees, performance standards are too unclear and subjective,” Berry said. “And then you don’t fully know what’s expected of you or how you’re doing.” Among the reforms Berry is calling for the government to implement are detailed yardsticks that are “objective, aligned to agency mission and goals,” and have true “employee buy-in.”
Drucker certainly would have agreed with this approach. “One can measure the performance of a man only against specific performance expectations,” he wrote, adding that the best kind of review begins with a statement of the key contributions expected from the employee, along with a record of how he or she has fulfilled these particular goals.
A Series of Questions
But Drucker didn’t stop there. After analyzing how the worker has (or hasn’t) met these objectives, the ideal appraisal in Drucker’s eyes would ask a handful of questions, the first three of which would zero in on an individual’s strengths: What has he or she done well? What, therefore, is he or she likely to do well in the future? What new knowledge or skills must he or she acquire in order to coax the full benefit from his or her strengths?
It is only the next set of questions that veers in a different direction: If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under or alongside this person? If yes, why? If no, why not?
That’s the entire form, top to bottom. “This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look … than the usual procedure does,” Drucker wrote. But it concentrates on what people naturally do well and should do even more of. At the same time, it positions weaknesses so they are “seen as limitations to the full use” of an employee’s talents, not as deficiencies that one needs to obsess over.
For all of his attention on the positive over the negative, Drucker was no softie regarding staff. He believed that employers should make every job as “demanding and big” as possible. That’s because it’s only when jobs challenge people that their full strengths emerge, he said. And only if there’s scope will “any strength that is relevant to the task … produce significant results.”
[To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.]
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Rick Wartzman is executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He spent the first 20 years of his career as a reporter, editor, and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. His most recent book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was published by PublicAffairs in September 2008.
Here is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Derek Dean and Caroline Webb for The McKinsey Quarterly (January 2011). To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.
Source: Organization Practice
For all the benefits of the information technology and communications revolution, it has a well-known dark side: information overload and its close cousin, attention fragmentation. These scourges hit CEOs and their colleagues in the C-suite particularly hard because senior executives so badly need uninterrupted time to synthesize information from many different sources, reflect on its implications for the organization, apply judgment, make trade-offs, and arrive at good decisions.
The importance of reserving chunks of time for reflection, and the difficulty of doing so, have been themes in management writing for decades. Look no further than Peter Drucker’s 1967 classic, The Effective Executive,1 which emphasized that “most of the tasks of the executive require, for minimum effectiveness, a fairly large quantum of time.” Drucker’s solutions for fragmented executives—reserve large blocks of time on your calendar, don’t answer the phone, and return calls in short bursts once or twice a day—sound remarkably like the ones offered up by today’s time- and information-management experts.2
Yet they are devilishly difficult to implement, and getting more so all the time. Every challenge recounted by Drucker in 1967 remains today: an unceasing rhythm of daily meetings, a relentless expectation of travel to connect with customers and far-flung reaches of the organization, an inordinate number of opportunities to represent the company at dinners and events. Add to these challenges a torrent of e-mail, huge volumes of other information, and an expanding variety of means—from the ever-present telephone to blogs, tweets, and social networks—through which executives can connect with their organizations and customers, and you have a recipe for exhaustion. Many senior executives literally have two overlapping workdays: the one that is formally programmed in their diaries and the one “before, after, and in-between,” when they disjointedly attempt to grab spare moments with their laptops or smart phones, multitasking in a vain effort to keep pace with the information flowing toward them.
Better solutions exist, and they aren’t rocket science.3 What we hope to do in this article is help executives, and their organizations, by reminding them of three simple things. First, multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism. A body of scientific evidence demonstrates fairly conclusively that multitasking makes human beings less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective leaders, we need to stop.
Second, addressing information overload requires enormous self-discipline. A little like recovering addicts, senior executives must labor each day to keep themselves on track by applying timeless yet powerful guidelines: find time to focus, filter out the unimportant, forget about work every now and then. The holy grail, of course, is to retain the benefits of connectivity without letting it distract us too much.
Third, since senior executives’ behavior sets the tone for the organization, they have a duty to set a better example. The widespread availability of powerful communications technologies means employees now share many of the time- and attention-management challenges of their leaders. The whole organization’s productivity can now be affected by information overload, and no single person or group can address it in isolation. Resetting the culture to healthier norms is a critical new responsibility for 21st-century executives.
The perils of multitasking
We tend to believe that by doing several things at the same time we can better handle the information rushing toward us and get more done. What’s more, multitasking—interrupting one task with another—can sometimes be fun. Each vibration of our favorite high-tech e-mail device carries the promise of potential rewards. Checking it may provide a welcome distraction from more difficult and challenging tasks. It helps us feel, at least briefly, that we’ve accomplished something—even if only pruning our e-mail in-boxes. Unfortunately, current research indicates the opposite: multitasking unequivocally damages productivity.
It slows us down
The root of the problem is that our brain is best designed to focus on one task at a time. When we switch between tasks, especially complex ones, we become startlingly less efficient: in a recent study, for example, participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence. The delay comes from the fact that our brains can’t successfully tell us to perform two actions concurrently.4 When we switch tasks, our brains must choose to do so, turn off the cognitive rules for the old task, and turn on the rules for the new one. This takes time, which reduces productivity, particularly for heavy multitaskers — who, it seems, take even longer to switch between tasks than occasional multitaskers.5
In practice, most of us would probably acknowledge that multitasking lets us quickly cross some of the simpler items off our to-do lists. But it rarely helps us solve the toughest problems we’re working on. More often than not, it’s procrastination in disguise.
The following history of the Strengths movement is only one of the resources now available at no cost to those who visit Marcus Buckingham’s Strengths Campus. Please click here to check it out.
Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, the Strengths movement can actually trace its roots back at least as far as 1966. That year, legendary management guru Peter Drucker published a book titled The Effective Executive. Without, perhaps, even intending to, he couldn’t have launched the strengths movement with a clearer statement of principle: “the effective executive builds on strengths—their own strengths, the strengths of superiors, colleagues, subordinates; and on the strengths of the situation.”
A few years later, educational psychology professor Donald O. Clifton founded a company he named Selection Research, Inc. (SRI) to explore a simple idea that helped to revolutionize psychology: focusing on what is right with people, instead of on what is wrong. SRI’s method was to investigate the best performers in any given role and find out what, exactly, made them the best. In studying both managers and teachers, SRI’s researchers found a common pattern emerging: those who performed best were those who, instead of trying to somehow put in what was left out, tried to maximize the unique strengths of each employee or student. This tendency emerged as a dominant factor in separating the best teachers and managers from those who didn’t get the same results.
Armed with this knowledge, SRI built a training program named Varsity Management in 1980. One of the program’s key concepts was to focus on strengths. In 1983, SRI’s training program and techniques caught the eye of Graeme Buckingham, head of Human Resources for Allied Breweries, owner of 7,000 pubs in Britain. Buckingham knew from his own experience that the success of each pub was largely dependent on the quality of its manager, so he brought Don Clifton and SRI to England to build a pub manager selection interview.
Clifton ended up recruiting Buckingham’s son, Marcus, to work for SRI in Lincoln, Nebraska, during his summers off at Cambridge. Marcus went through the Varsity Management program and eventually signed on full-time with SRI in the Selection Testing Division, helping to build selection interviews. Marcus had based his master’s thesis, “The Social and Psychological Issues of Entrepreneurship,” on SRI research.
Meanwhile, at Case Western Reserve University, doctoral candidate David Cooperrider and his advisor Suresh Srivastva were taking their first steps toward creating a new field. Inspired by a case study of an organization that showed decidedly positive levels of cooperation and innovation, Cooperrider completed his dissertation on “Appreciative Inquiry” and the two scholars marked the first appearance of the term in a professional publication with their 1987 article “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life.” The stated mission of the new field, in Cooperrider’s words, was “to build organizations around what works rather than fix what doesn’t.” Later that same year, the first public workshop on Appreciative Inquiry was held in San Francisco.
Another key contribution to the development of the strengths movement came with the publication of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi had dedicated himself for over two decades to studying a central insight: that happiness did not happen by chance, but instead had to be cultivated, defended and prepared for. His research led him to develop the concept of what he called “optimal experience”: “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” From extensive interviews with people about such optimal experiences, Csikszentmihalyi developed the theory of flow: “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” The recognition of that highly desirable state of mind has become a key concept in identifying personal strengths.
In 1988, SRI acquired the Gallup Organization and took on the older company’s name. Although its name was and is synonymous in the public mind with polling services, the joint company maintained SRI’s dedication to exploring what makes people excel. In 1997, Clifton identified the now-legendary “Q12” — the 12 key questions that best measure employee engagement. Charged with developing and designing the Q12 practice for Gallup were Curt Coffman, Dr. James K. Harter, and Marcus Buckingham.
Put in charge of developing content and training programs centered on the Q12, Buckingham wrote a proposal for a book originally titled The Gallup Book of Management. Everyone agreed that the title wasn’t quite right, but Buckingham managed to secure high-profile William Morris agent Joni Evans to represent the book. She requested a redraft of the book proposal. And another. And another. Finally, on the 20th draft, she deemed the proposal ready to send out, and Simon & Schuster acquired the rights. After a brief flirtation with the title Breaking All the Rules, Buckingham hit on a piece of inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry VI — “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” — and the book finally gained its familiar title: First, Break All the Rules.
Written in New York City throughout 1998, First, Break All the Rules was published in April 1999, becoming an immediate bestseller and instant business classic. Not content to rest on their laurels, Clifton and Buckingham soon began work on the follow-up book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and its associated assessment test, StrengthsFinder. Clifton developed and tested the 180 items that made up the StrengthsFinder profile, while Buckingham wrote the 34 “Talent Theme” definitions and all of the action items. Each copy of Now featured a code enabling readers to take the StrengthsFinder test, giving it a claim, in a sense, as the first interactive book. At the last minute, Gallup decided to remove the individual action items, concerned that including them would hurt their consulting business. Later Gallup realized that those action items needed to be shared, and they became the basis for StrengthsFinder 2.0.
“The most important thing I learned was that psychology was half-baked, literally half-baked. We had baked the part about mental illness; we had baked the part about repair of damage. But… that’s only half of it. The other side’s unbaked, the side of strength, the side of what we’re good at.”
—Dr. Martin Seligman, 1999