Book Review: StandOut by Marcus Buckingham

It was always going to be tough for Marcus Buckingham to trump his own work.

His StrengthsFinder assessment, hot on the heels of his paradigm breaking First Break All The Rules, began to allow us to create both the mindset and language for focusing on what’s right with us. Rather than on the weaknesses that had until then been the natural orientation for development.

Now, post Gallup, and a decade or so later, he has created StandOut, a follow-up strengths assessment, positioned as a new way of looking at and thinking about innovation.

Innovation delivery

In his book, published in the UK on 13th September, he talks about business’s current preoccupation with innovation. He highlights the propensity for it to be captured, learned and institutionalised by companies intent on harnessing its power. Hence the investments that are made in Centres of Excellence, Knowledge Capture and Corporate Universities.

Instead, he argues, innovation is a very personal thing, emanating from the essence of the unique blend of strengths and talents of the individual for whom serendipity strikes. Also, that small innovations – those that allow for shortcuts or better techniques – are as valuable to a corporation than massive ones like creating the Internet. And that, what works well for one person in one situation, may bomb if replicated by another, in a different context.

Rather than hang out in search of the holy innovation grail, Buckingham argues, we should all get clear about what gives each of us our edge, and work more from that place.

The assessment, to which you get access if you buy the book, describes that edge in terms of your top two of 9 roles: Advisor, Connector, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Provider, Stimulator, and Teacher.

What’s great

StandOut has quite obviously been developed for an audience of cubicle warriors. The well produced assessment reports headline where and how you’ll be of greatest value, and all of the roles are grounded in examples of phrases you can use to help you describe your edge, how to take your performance to the next level, and examples of things to watch out for to ensure you don’t misdirect your strengths.

It’s that practical stuff that exemplifies so well Buckingham’s move to focus less on measurement and more on what can be done with it.

These tips are further broken down for leaders, for managers, for client service sorts, and for sales. They also give ideas about what types of careers work best for each role.

And the whole framing around strengths is very positive and inspiring.

What’s not right yet

While it’ll work well for corporate folks, I feel it works less well for entrepreneurial sorts, who work and live outside of institutionalised work or aspire to do so. In that regard, I’d rather point people to Roger Hamilton’s Wealth Dynamics as both a body of thought and an assessment methodology.

Also, having done the assessment myself, I was left with a bit of a “so what?”. I can see StandOut being a useful tool or piece of input to leadership and employee development, and indeed to coaching, as it certainly provides a framework around which to have a conversation.

It’s more holistic and action based that his original strengths work. But I can’t see what it adds beyond a well facilitated discussion around existing instruments like Myers Briggs. From having done the assessment myself, I emerge as Creator/Pioneer. These things I knew of myself 20 years ago when I did my psychometric test training initially. Maybe the difference is that StandOut attempts to describe one’s genius in a way that other things don’t. And if that’s true, I think that hooking the whole thing around innovation limits its accessibility.

I’d also, as part of my own coaching, recently done his Find Your Strongest Life questionnaire, and found that many of the questions used across both assessments are the same. So, if you’re not new to Buckingham, you may be disappointed.

I also suspect there’s a wider application of StandOut that could be used to help teams, or businesses better understand their innovation edge. This is hinted at in the technical summary, but there’s a real opportunity waiting to be leveraged there. I’ve already recommended the book to a couple of my consulting type clients for whom the insights of the book, seen through a cultural lens, could be pretty useful.

So what?

On balance I thought the book and indeed the whole system is interesting and insightful. I suspect it’ll be of value to corporate folks, new to Buckingham’s work, who are ready to stop living on automatic pilot and step up to being their best selves.

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  1. I like your evaluation of the book. Seems fair and thoughtful.
    The point from Buckingham’s book that stands out to me most from what you described, is the fact that the little shortcuts, strengths, tips or techniques we provide can make a huge difference in an organization. We don’t have to implement a life-altering intervention to make an impact in business. So often we hold back for fear that what we want to do isn’t big enough or life-changing enough… but it’s all of the little things built up over time that can make a huge difference.
    Angela :)

    • That’s a very neat observation from Buckingham’s book and this review, Angela. Little changes, maintained over time, can indeed have a snowball effect. The key thing is to make the little changes, right?! :-)

  2. Scot Herrick says:

    The key, I think, to Buckingham is that he is one of the few writers focused on individuals working (for corporations) rather than a writer focused on managing individuals who are working.

    And most of his stuff is well-grounded in facts based research rather than on conventional wisdom so often associated with management and leadership books.

    The content might be similar (I own the balance of his books), but the points of individual strength, working to those strengths, understanding the strengths and marketing those strengths all need encouragement at the level of the cubicle.

    Good review, Christine!
    Scot Herrick´s last blog post ..How 4 events in the 4th quarter impact your career

    • Christine says:

      Thanks, Scot. I endorse what you say here about the benefits of Marcus’s focus on individuals. It’s refreshing!

  3. Pegi Brock says:

    We just had Marcus speak at our convention on this very book and oh my gosh was he an incredibly charming, thought provoking, speaker! We all hung on his every word. Of course it helps that he has a beautiful accent, and is comfortable with the audience enough to keep us wildly entertained. It all made perfect sense to us, and we loved him. I just purchased 5 of these books and am doing a class on it for my Realtors and will use the 5 books as giveaways for most creative thinking at the meeting.
    I loved the book, I loved the speaker, and I am sure that some of my 98 Realtors will gain some insight from the techinques as well.

    • Christine says:

      That’s awesome, Pegi. I think one of the great things about Marcus is his focus on strengths. From both my own experience, and that of working with clients, I notice that, if we can find ways to exercise our strengths, it’s kind of like magic happens. No only do we – and others – experience how powerful we are, we get to feel awesome too. Result!


  1. How Safe Is It To Be Yourself In Leadership? says:

    [...] saw his angst was that, as it stood, it didn’t play to his core strengths. In the language of Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut, he’s a creator and pioneer. The role seemed to call more for an Influencer and [...]

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