“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– from A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles
The basic idea behind flourishing on strengths is simple. Instead of worrying about what our weaknesses are and how to fix them, we start by understanding our strengths and build our life around those strengths. This idea stands in contradictions to decades of practice of developing a well rounded personality as a child or an employee, but it is easy to see how the seed of working on strengths, if planted, can help each individual flower in his or her unique way.
The resources listed on this page are related to the strength based paradigm, to positive psychology, to the science of flourishing and to the science of well being and thriving. We have included books as well as links to TED talks and other online resources that can be accessed. We will keep adding to this list so do visit us again to check out the latest additions.
1. Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker
This is a classic article by Peter Drucker, someone whose work I really appreciate. In this piece, he strongly advocates a strength-based-perspective as he encourages people to reflect on discovering what their own strengths and values are and where they feel they belong and can contribute. I also like his emphasis on the idea that the answers to these questions are not found in a vacuum, but rather through an iterative process of engagement with others through work by and in organizations. This is an article I come back and read every now and then just for the elegance and conviction with which it is written.
In fact there is a entire book called HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Managing Yourself that has this article and other leading thinkers writing on the same subject. Here is also a link to a wonderful interview with Peter Drucker as well.
2. Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE)
This Harvard Business Review article provides a good summary of the strength based perspective and also outlines the use of a very useful exercise called, ‘The Reflected Best Self Exercise’. To do this exercise one solicits feedback from close others, requesting them to provide stories and narrations of when they thought that the focal person was functioning at their best – creating a positive experience for themselves and others. The underlying premise behind this exercise is that people do not construct their identities in isolation but rather in conjunction with others that they interact with. Also, inputs from multiple sources can provide more accurate insight into a person’s unique strengths. This exercise is not just a self-esteem or self-efficacy boosting tool (although it might appear to be that at a surface level). It’s effects are quite deep in terms of clarifying ones own idea of how one functions at ones highest potential.
There is also a detailed research paper on RBSE in AMR, an academic journal. I strongly recommend that anyone who finds the RBSE exercise interesting should also read this. It provides a good summary of the research and groundwork that was done prior to the creation of this exercise. It also provides a good overview of the underlying philosophy and ideology adopted under the strength based perspective.
Then there is the website of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), where the RBSE exercise was developed, which contains interesting articles and links to real life applications of the RBSE exercise in contexts ranging from the corporate world to high school.
3. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
This book was my first real exposure to the emerging field of Positive Psychology – which has topics like happiness, flow, engagement, strength, well being – common sense enough to both engage with and apply to improve yourself. Haidt’s book is aimed to be read at large and it especially helped me reconcile a lot of common wisdom, which I have grown up with in the Indian culture, with the modern scientific approach, which is hard wired into my thinking now. I liked that it is framed as a hypothesis and not take-aways or conclusions, allowing you to engage with it, question it, experiment with it and see if it works for you. The chapter on virtues and strengths changed how I think of what work I should be doing in the future. I started building my new career upon my strengths rather than fixing my weaknesses or development needs, as they were called in my consulting life. Read the book and I am sure you will come out with your own hypotheses on improving your happiness @ work.
“Here’s my favorite idea: work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row? It’s difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won’t enjoy the process. If you don’t find pleasure or reinforcement along the way, then – unless you have the willpower of Ben Franklin — you’ll soon give up. But you don’t really have to be good at everything. Life offers so many chances to use one tool instead of another, and often you can use a strength to get around a weakness.”
I would really recommend you get the whole book but if you want you can download the referred Chapter 8: The Felicity of Virtue and also read some of the other chapters from the book on The Happiness Hypothesis website. If you are looking for material on how to apply this – go to the section on beyond the book and you can read Haidt’s view on how to apply this strength based approach to your life. [Resource Page on Strengths]
A tool I highly recommend (and it is free) is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths test at Authentic Happiness. When you go to the site, you’ll find it in the centre, about halfway down the page in the Engagement Questionnaires section. This site is in fact the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and it is a treasure house of information on positive psychology. There are quite a few tests and questionnaires related to well-being on this website. The VIA signature strengths questionnaire however is the one that has been most widely tested and also something that I believe is most useful. It takes about 15-20 minutes to do (with over 200 questions) but it is well worth the effort. In my own experience, discovering my signature strengths has literally opened me up to ways I can live more fully. Once we know our strengths, we can ask ourselves how we can nurture and make use of them, and this brings forth new ideas and possibilities to move into projects that we are likely to find fulfilling.
Martin Seligmans latest book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being is also an excellent resource to get a good general idea about what the positive psychology movement is trying to achieve. The fundamental premise in this book is that while happiness is a part of well-being, happiness alone doesn’t give life meaning. The book addresses questions like, what is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world? What is it that allows you to flourish? The five pillars of Positive Psychology, Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment—or PERMA, are presented as building blocks for a life of fulfillment. The book includes inspiring stories of Positive Psychology in action, ranging from applications in the armed forces, to schools and corporations.
The Strengths Finder program by the Gallup organization (and the corresponding website) is one of the oldest and well established proponents of the strength based perspective. While their message, assessment tool (which was recently upgraded to Strengthsfinder 2.0) and case studies are wonderful aids (and well backed by research), the catch is that the strengthfinder is not a free tool. They sell the access code to take the test in conjunction with a purchase of some of their books. You can also pay for the test online but it is actually cheaper to buy a book. There are 6 such books that you will find listed on their website and they are all decent reads, but if you are interested in buying one of their books in order to take the test, then go for the latest book Strengths Finder 2.0 because it provides access to the latest version of the assessment.
Job Crafting is a simple but powerful concept. The key idea here is that many jobs are actually more flexible than we realize. We can literally ‘craft’ what we believe to be ‘a given job definition’ such that it begins to get more aligned with our own strengths and preferences. We begin to shift the emphasis of our job towards things that we want to do and things we can do really well, so that we can have a better work experience overall. This idea is subtle but it can provide very tangible and quick results and it is especially useful for those who want to improve their overall work experience but do not want to quit their current jobs completely.
The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) at the University of Michigan has a useful Job Crafting Exercise resource site. There is a template as well as some accompanying resources that can be bought online. There are quite a few free articles as well available for download on the same website and on the same topic. Those really interested in taking this idea forward or interested in evidence of case studies of applications of Job Crafting might find it useful to read some of the academic articles listed on the website.
7. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner
In this book Howard Gardner describes his theory of Multiple Intelligence which is about how different people learn differently and have different talents and skills – or in other words ‘Intelligences’. It brings to stark contrast how the current education system focuses so heavily on the Logical-Mathematical and Linguistic Intelligence to the detriment of everything else including Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic and Personal Intelligence.
8. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
It is hard to predict the future, but what we can say for sure is that it will change and be very different from what we know today. So why is it that our education systems has not changed for the last 10 decades and is still modelled after the batch production philosophy industrial age. So how does one prepare oneself for this unknown future. Ken Robinson has an excellent take on the topic of education and creativity and he does this with unique wit and humour. I would really recommend you read or listen to what Ken Robinson has to say. You should definitely hear his TED talks on “How Schools Kill Creativity” in 2006 and “Bring on the Learning Revolution” in 2010. Or you can try out his talk on Changing Education Paradigm at RSA Animate
9. Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
Appreciative Inquiry is the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a relatively young field but do check out this HBS Working Knowledge article if you are interested in knowing its history and the story behind its birth which is quite inspiring of its own accord. Although AI initially gained popularity as a change management tool, today I think it is fair to say that AI is being used successfully in a large variety of contexts (from corporate to classrooms) and as well as for a large spectrum of agendas. The essence of AI is an affirmative worldview that shapes what we look for in personal, interpersonal and organizational inquiry, and thus can be applied to any domain of application which involves human beings and systems.
The Center for Appreciative Inquiry would be the best starting point for anyone interested in AI. Not only does it list comprehensive resources and research on AI, but it also provides several case studies of organizations which have used AI in successful ways.
Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-Based Workshops by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel is a particularly useful book for anyone who wants to start experimenting with AI right away by designing and conducting AI workshops or sessions for their own organizations or teams. Almost half of this book is devoted to detailed outlines for conducting AI sessions on a variety of topics, which is really useful for a beginner.
Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change by David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Jacqueline M. Stavros is another useful book which reviews the basic philosophy and foundational ideas behind AI as well a basic primer on the methods typically used in AI. It also contains examples of applications and measured impacts, and evidences of positive change from longitudinal interventions. Again a book that will be very useful for beginners.
10. The Happiness Advantage (book) by Shawn Achor
This book is an excellent starting point for anybody who wants a quick introduction to some of the research in positive psychology, and wants to start applying it right away to improve their productivity and effectiveness at work. The philosophy of the book might appear convoluted to some people (happiness –> productivity –> success –> happiness? ), but I still think that it is a great resource for the those of us who are keen to be productive and effective at work. To me the greatest gift from this book is at it provides unquestionable evidence that happiness leads to better performance.
Check out a very engaging TED talk titled ‘The happy secret to Better work’ by the same author
11. Search Inside Yourself (book) by Chade Meng Tan,
This is a wonderful book that has practical techniques and exercises for bringing mindfulness practices and meditation into the workplace. It is humorously written and meditation is demystified and explained in a very down to earth fashion. I like to recommend it to students with an analytical bent of mind and technical background because as I see it this book is written for engineers by an engineer (at Google). The book advocates simple zen and mindfulness practices but uses evidence from recent findings in neuroscience research to explain why these practices work.
Also check out the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) website that has a wealth of resources and information about programs that offer attention and mindfulness training aimed at building emotional intelligence skills for peak performance and effective leadership.
And here is a talk on the same topic by Chade Meng Tan
12. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder (book) by Arianna Huffington
In this book, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post and one of the most influential women in the world, has appealed to people to reconsider and redefine what it means to be successful in today’s world. She has likened modern societies drive for money and power to two legs of a three-legged stool which might hold us up temporarily, but is likely to topple over at some point. She introduces what she calls a third leg or a third metric for defining success – in order to live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. Arianna draws on some of the latest research and scientific findings in the fields of psychology and physiology to support her points as she emphasizes the nurturing effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging and giving.
You could also watch this talk by Arianna on the same topic Because Arianna is a successful businesswoman (and quite deeply immersed in the mainstream corporate world), I think it is very interesting to listen to her perspective on the ‘metrics of success’ and how these include factors like happiness, wonder, peace, balance and connection.
13. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (book) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I absolutely love this book as well as another book titled ‘Finding Flow’ by the same author. This book gives a good introduction to the subject of ‘flow’ which is the psychological term used to denote the state of optimal experience (sometimes called the ‘peak state’ in sports) where the actor and the action merge into a state on oneness. This is a state where most human beings experience a sense of deep well being and enjoyment and it is also the state where performance usually peaks. You can read more about the flow state here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)
This TED Talk on Flow by Csikszentmihalyi is also worth hearing http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow
14. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Book) by Daniel H. Pink
In this book Daniel Pink draws on four decades of scientific research on human motivation to examine what it is that really motivates human beings. He draws our attention to a seeming ‘mismatch between what science knows and what business does’. Most organizations design processes under the assumption that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. Research however suggests that carrots and sticks are effective only for a narrow band of specific tasks and that the secret to high performance lies in the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.
Watch Dan Pink Summarize the key ideas of this book in this highly energetic TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation
15. “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace
I come across this after his death and you can clearly seem some overtones here. But it is a great speech from a gifted writer and stuck home with me on the simple theme of present-centered awareness of the ordinary and attention to every moment.
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” …
….The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”