Marcus Buckingham, in the auspices of working for Gallop, devised an ingenious method of discerning how we process information. According to his research, information comes through a filtering system in our brains, and gets instantly stored and sorted for further use. Developed as a management tool, it became quite popular with the corporate world, as communication can often be difficult.
I well remember the day when I worked in a call center where we were taken off the 'phones, a holiday in and of itself, and sent into the training labs to hear about this program. Next, we were given a series of test questions and told that we would have our answers in two weeks time.
We were all fairly curious to see the results of the Gallop program, but nothing could have prepared us for the impact. It was not that we discussed it for the next week; it went in to the following months and then years. We were given a small plaque to put beside our computer terminals in our lowly cubicles. Anyone coming to talk to us, about any given matter, could glance at the list of strengths and then ideally, would formulate a plan to address the situation, based on how we like to receive information.
The categories were separated into four themes: Impacting, relating, thinking and striving. When the test results were handed out I was told that in the group of over four hundred people, only two had all five top strengths in the thinking department. Everyone in the room looked at me and I quipped that I must be a brain in a jar.
My list came out as follows: Intellection, Arranger, Connectedness, Learner, Context. Briefly, the first title is described as someone who likes to think things through, endlessly. The arranger is depicted as a juggler who can toss it all in the air and then find a quick way through the morass to a solution and a way forward. Connectedness has to do with always having the bigger picture, that being the universal oneness of being, in mind. Learner is rather self explanatory in that those with this particular strength have an endless fascination with that which they do not know. Context pertains to the history of any given situation. First of all, how did we get here.
Back at my desk with this new information about myself, I suddenly realized that I could not have had a better grouping for writing. At this point in my life, my novel had been rejected, I was feeling rather hopeless in regards to my great dream, and was literally punching a time clock and doggedly putting one foot in front of the other. Suddenly, I wondered if I had underestimated myself, taken rejection too personally and asked everyone around me if I should not have another crack at the old manuscript.
This kind of reaction rippled through the whole company. Relationships ended and many people moved on to other jobs. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “when a child brings home a report card with three A's, two B's and a D which grade becomes the center of our dialog?”
This program, can be useful as we look at characters we have created. It may be a method of sticking to a consistent theme which is evident in a person's life. Are they a driven individual, always, trying to affect change? Are they passive, always trying to understand what is about to hit them next? Do they need to win over others, or are they confident in themselves, no matter how odd they may appear to to others?
As companies learned to stop focusing continually on what an employee was doing wrong, and were trained to shift their thinking towards a more positive outlook, we can apply the same tool to writing. We are all flawed, and we make mistakes, but we do learn from them, and have great strengths at the same time. Nothing is more flat then a one dimensional character. We are complex creatures after all, full of quirks and foibles. Many great stories involve a character, under duress, finding strengths they did not know they possessed.