Love + Work
Harvard Business Review Press | Apr 2022
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Bob Selden finds much to like in Marcus Buckingham's new book.
I'm not sure how to write this review – and having written more than 100 previously – that may be a curious thing to say. But having read Love + Work, I know that author Marcus Buckingham will immediately understand. Not understand why I'm having difficulty, for that's my reason, but understand that it's not the process of writing the review that's important to others, but the outcome. The process (the activity of writing) is very important to me, but to you, the reader, it's the outcome – the review that's important.
Serendipity? I had three similar experiences to Marcus Buckingham that endeared me to this book – you may find others – or none (more on one of these shortly). And that's one of the key themes, to find what Marcus calls your "red threads", your uniqueness. To find the "what" of your work role, the activities that turn you on, and are the important things that will make you love your work. As he says, "Find what you love, and love what you do". I'll be a bit cheeky here and give one of my own quotes which I think sums up Marcus' philosophy about work, "You should find something you like doing so much that you'd do it for nothing – then find someone who will pay you for doing it".
As an example of finding this love, Marcus asks, "Do you have a chance to use your strengths every day? In the last week, have you felt excited to work every day?".
To find out what you love to do, Marcus, suggests that you'll need to learn a new language, the language of love – this is not the traditional notion of "romantic love" (although he does discuss that in relation to work) - but the love of work.
The very first word to learn in this language is Wyrd. It's pronounced the same as 'weird' but it's a noun, as in "You have a Wyrd." Apparently, it's an ancient Norse term and the source of your Wyrd is all the activities (or threads) that literally turn you on and make you uniquely you. Marcus terms these your "red threads". And if you can find these, you'll be able to seek out work that includes these red threads and provides you with satisfaction, motivation and engagement (later in the book, Marcus suggests ways that employers, managers and leaders can provide strategies for allowing different people doing similar jobs, to find their red threads).
Which brings me to one of the experiences I had that was similar to Marcus' and which started him down the path of identifying his red threads and ultimately establishing his Wyrd as a world class researcher of what makes people unique. It happened when he was nine and in one of the four "House" teams set up by his school to create team loyalties and competitiveness. One day in athletics, as boys were attempting the high-jump, Marcus happened to look around at the boys watching, and as a boy ran up to the high-jump bar, the watchers all lifted a leg off the ground. This happened for all jumpers, irrespective of which House they represented. Apparently, they were empathised with the jumper through their mirror neurons. As Marcus points out, Giacomo Rizzolatti, and his team discovered the existence of these mirror neurons, and that "the leg lifting was a manifestation of our instinctive response to mirror the emotions and actions of others".
Yet interestingly, when Marcus asked boys after the event, "Why did you lift your leg when another boy was jumping?", they all denied it! This experience was the start of Marcus identifying one of his red threads, which later in life would lead to many people-research projects and writing books such as "Love + Work".
My experience was similar to Marcus', only mine happened when I was 16. I too was fascinated, well, to be truthful, I found it more humorous at the time, to see the boys lifting their leg at the high-jump attempts. Nor did I ask the boys why they did it – I ruminated on it. My "red thread" from this experience was different and took me quite some years to eventually develop a Wyrd that has become a lifelong desire to understand how people learn.
In Love + Work you'll find many great activities/questions/suggestions to help you develop your own Wyrd, such as the Red Thread Questionnaire, and to whet your appetite, here's a snippet:
"When was the last time . . .
. . . you lost track of time?
. . . you instinctively volunteered for something?
. . . someone had to tear you away from what you were doing?"
This is necessarily one of the longest reviews I have written, and if there's one comment I would make (and it's probably reflected in the length of this review), is that Marcus does (for me) take considerable time to get to the key points of the discussion. However, take the time, please read this book, and find your Wyrd – you'll find that your time is really well spent and may indeed change some of the things (or activities) you look for in your current work, or perhaps future career role.
Highly recommended – it's probably Marcus Buckingham's best book.
Bob Selden, is an author, management consultant and coach based in New Zealand and working internationally. Much of his time currently is spent working with family businesses. He's the author of the best-selling What To Do When You Become The Boss. His new book, What To Do When Leadership Is Needed, will be released soon.