Marcus Buckingham: Take Your ‘Red Threads’ Seriously

Each one of us has a “red thread” within, a natural gift that, if nurtured, can be woven into something unique and beneficial, according to business consultant Marcus Buckingham. The challenge is to identify these threads and recognize them as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The coauthor of the upcoming book Nine Lies About Work, founder of the strengths revolution, and head and talent expert at the ADP Research Institute, Buckingham has also won the praise of Toyota, Facebook, Disney, and others for his focus on developing personal strengths — “red threads” — rather than improving individual weaknesses.

“You have unique red threads that you can weave into the fabric of your world and no one can do this but you,” Buckingham told attendees of this year’s Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki. “When you do that you are magnificent,” he said.

Buckingham noted that when companies say that people are their greatest assets, what they actually mean is that each unique human working in that company is its greatest asset. “The power of human nature is that each human’s nature is unique,” said Buckingham. “Human uniqueness is a feature, not a flaw.”

People should “take seriously the uniqueness of your uniqueness and weave it into something from which we can all contribute.” Accomplishing that means revisiting one’s strengths in order to improve upon them. Buckingham called this process “strengths replay.” He gave the example of reviewing an athlete’s performance to focus on what he or she did right in a certain situation. In a company setting, strengths replay means identifying situations when employees perform well.

“In every meeting, you are looking at moments in time when somebody did something that worked for them,” said Buckingham. “Not that they did it your way.” This forms part of a learning process that builds upon a person’s innate talents.

“Learning is not people taking information from outside, brilliant advice that they take in,” Buckingham said. “Learning is recognizing a pattern that’s already there within you and then figuring out how to refine it, re-apply it, develop it. That’s what learning is.” He referenced scientific studies that have demonstrated that people typically gain the most synaptic connections where they have the most preexisting connections.

“Learning is a function of neurogenesis, growing new neurons,” said Buckingham. “Learning is like growing new buds on a new branch, not growing new branches,” he said. “You don’t have strengths and areas of opportunity. You have strengths that are your areas of opportunity.”

As such, people should focus on the process of strengths replay in order to better their abilities. “Learn that skill,” Buckingham said. “You’ll get the most out of your people and the most out of yourself.”

“We are asking you to take seriously the uniqueness of your uniqueness and weave it into something from which we can all contribute,” Buckingham added in his talk. “We are asking you to do that, waiting for you to do that. Please don’t make us wait too long.”

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