An interview with Marcus Buckingham, whose The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success will be published by Thomas Nelson.
PW: What’s the book’s format, and what are its goals?
MB: I was aiming at college graduates, or recent college graduates, thinking I’ve got to give them something concise, coherent, self-contained and fast—not another 300-page trade book. There’s a 20-minute enhanced DVD; an interactive book, which takes up where the film leaves off; and a ReMemo Pad, a way of using the raw material of your week to clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses. The focus of it is how do you set your career up right—how do you start in such a way that you can push the world toward the best of you. When even the best companies don’t ever really know who you are, but you want to express the best of you are—what’s the best career advice you could give someone in terms of taking control of their life and their career, when they’re faced with a world that really just wants their performance. Most companies really see you as a performance commodity. So in addition to the notion of fast and efficient, I was thinking of that favorite uncle who takes you aside at a dinner party one night and says, Look, before you go out in the working world—or maybe you’re already out in it and you’re struggling to find the right direction—let me tell you the way it really is, what it’s like, what you need to know and what you need to do. It was that kind of candor that I wanted to give people.
PW: One of the book’s sections is titled “Your Strengths Aren’t What You’re Good At and Your Weaknesses Aren’t What You’re Bad At.” What’s that about?
MB: We’re raised to believe exactly precisely that, but of course if that’s true then you are not the best teacher about your strengths and your weaknesses, because other people can sometimes be the better judge of your actual performance—sometimes you need an external objective source to say that was good or that wasn’t. So you’ve got to look outside of yourself for information—and that’s what we do: we tend to look to our teachers in school, to our parents at home, to our manager in the workplace—all of these other people are supposed to tell us who we really are. My point was, let’s look at that. Are your strengths really what you’re good at? What about those things that you’re good at but that you hate—that bore you, or drain you or leave you cold? You can do them, because you’re competent or because you’re responsible. So for a short period of time you can really pull through and deliver a great performance. But they sap you of energy. Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours. A weakness is an activity that drains you or weakens you, even if you’re good at it. So I thought let’s arm people early in their careers with the proper definition of a strength and a weakness.
PW: With its different components—the video, the memo pad, the book itself—The Truth About You plays into the current trend for getting info fast, often in nontraditional formats. Could Truth pave the way for similar book projects?
MB: I think it’s a fascinating combination, because I think you’ve got two distinct trends going on. One is toward, obviously, online: small, digital, video—a lot of video, mobility. I want to be able to access my books anytime; hence the Kindle, right? I want to be able to watch things that are connected to my books—I want video, that’s why Amazon and Barnes & Noble throw loop video clips, because I want the author up there talking about their book. It’s a video age, it’s a mobile age, it’s an instantaneous age. Which means that on one level we don’t want a static book, we want something that’s video and that’s connected to the Web. On the flip side, we actually do like a tactile experience. People buy pads all the time, because they want to write stuff down. We’re never going to get away from paper, ever. People like writing; that’s why more people are writing more real thank-you notes now—not just to stand out, but because there’s something about pen to paper, about holding something cool in your hands. Touch is a very important human sense. I think books will always be needed. That’s a problem with the Kindle; you can’t turn the pages, you can’t scribble in the margins. We’ll always want sexy-looking books; we’ll always want books to hold or pads to use.
PW: You’ve talked about targeting Gen Y readers in particular. Why?
MB: Gen Y is really quite distinct from Gen X; it’s really self-involved and very narcissistic—their cameras are filled with pictures of themselves; Facebook, it’s about me. It’s a generation that’s been pampered by their parents and their schools, given prizes for just taking part. But on the positive side it’s very volunteerist; they really believe they can make a difference. And they bounce into the workplace: look at me, I’ve shown up for work, on time, for six weeks: where’s my promotion? As a supervisor of these people you have to engage their volunteerism and self-absorption, and at the same time channel it. You have to say yes, you’re unique, yes, you can make a difference, but it has to be turned into performance, into productivity. There needs to be an element of, I need to show you the truth here, buddy; I don’t want to crush your spirit, because you are unique and distinct but there have to be some outcomes here. It’s a little difficult, because this is a generation that doesn’t want to be lectured to at all. Frankly, if this book isn’t a bestseller, it will be because I didn’t quite strike that right balance of being loving yet directional. If you ask young people in America ages 18 to 25, right now, which do you think will help you win in life most, 70% of them say fixing my weaknesses; only 30% say building on my strengths. As a nation, our young people are entering the work force self-absorbed, yes; narcissistic, yes; volunteerist, yes—but also deeply confused, anxious and hunkered down. We’ve got a whole gen-eration of kids coming into the workplace who are not coherently thinking about what makes them special and how to use it. On some vague level they feel like they’re distinct and different, but they don’t really know how to apply it in the workplace.