First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Just another one of the thousands of management advice books, all clamoring to tell you the seven steps to success or some such? Maybe, but First, Break All the Rules speaks to me.

It’s a paean to individuals and their differences—or rather, their talents, a talent being defined as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” The book happens to be talking about individuals as employees, but the psychological insight applies equally outside of work.

The key insight—people are different—sounds obvious, but these authors have data (not cherry-picked anecdotes) to back up their conclusions. Furthermore, their advice is actionable. Moreover, Gallup’s strengths-based management agenda, born in the 90s, is still alive and kicking in 2016.

Read it or regret it!

See below for photos from the book, which, interestingly, before it belonged to me, belonged to an Arabic speaker… and, which judging by the flight ticket stub, was taken to Jeddah, Saudia Arabia! Take that, BookCrossing. Betcha this book has been on the Hajj.

Photos of First, Break All the Rules

Saudia Arabia doesn’t strike me as a good place to break rules.
Previous owner’s stamp appears on at least three different pages of the book.
Previous owner struggled with: regale, thrill (v.), spiffier, straw by straw, prism, fanned out, and unanimous.
Previous owner translated ‘stare’ (n.) and ‘scouting’.

Favorite quotes from First, Break All the Rules

Uniqueness pervades:

You have a filter, a characteristic way of responding to the world around you. We all do. Your filter tells you which stimuli to notice and which to ignore; which to love and which to hate. It creates your innate motivations—are you competitive, altruistic, or ego driven? It defines how you thinking—are you disciplined or laissez-faire, practical or strategic? It forges your prevailing attitudes—are you optimistic or cynical, calm or anxious, empathetic or cold? It creates in you all of your distinct patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. In effect, your filter is the source of your talents (76).

Fairness requires inequality:

Although great managers are committed to the concept of “fairness,” they define it rather differently from most people. In their mind “fairness” does not mean treating everyone the same. They would say that the only way to treat someone fairly is to treat them as they deserve to be treated, bearing in mind what they have accomplished (155).

I read the foundational positive thinking book, and I agree with Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman that sadly, authors like Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, and Rhonda Byrne promise miracles, thus set people up to fail… and, worse, to blame themselves for their failure. Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman, and the whole Gallup machinery are trying to do something very different: “Focus on strengths is not another name for the power of positive thinking” (164).

This book does a good job sticking to true positive messages. Find Your Strongest Life, not so much.

When and Why I Read It

I felt slightly odd having read Buckingham’s Now, Discover Your Strengths without having read his book about what to do first.

Genre: nonfiction (business)
Date started / date finished:  07-Dec-16 to XX-Dec-16
Length: 271 pages
ISBN: 0684861380 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1999
Amazon link: First, Break All the Rules (updated US hardcover)

I read a British, year 2000 copy, so I can’t comment on the 2016 version specifically.