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  • Writer's pictureTom Butler

A Contrarian's Guide to Work: A Book Review

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Reading a contrarian opinion on a subject oftentimes opens your mind to other ways of thinking. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking guide to the real world by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall is just such a book. The authors destroy our preconceived assumptions about work and replace those outdated assumptions with a new framework. I found myself laughing, cringing and puzzling over some of the “lies” but regardless of whether I agreed with them or not, I gained a new perspective.

Ridiculously short highlights of the book

Lie #1: People care about what company they work for

Truth #1: People care which team they’re on (Because that’s where work actually happens)

Lie #2: The best plan wins

Truth #2: The best intelligence wins (Because the world moves too fast for plans)

Lie #3: The best companies cascade goals

Truth #3: The best companies cascade meaning (Because people want to know what they all share)

Lie #4: The best people are well-rounded

Truth #4: The best people are spikey (Because uniqueness is a feature, not a bug)

Lie #5: People need feedback

Truth #5: People need attention (Because we all want to be seen for who we are at our best)

Lie#6: People can reliably rate each other

Truth #6: People can reliably rate their own experience (Because that’s all we have)

Lie #7: People have potential

Truth #7: People have momentum (Because we all move through the world differently)

Lie #8: Work-life balance matters most

Truth #8: Love-in-work matters most (Because that’s what work is really for)

Lie #9: Leadership is a thing

Truth #9: We follow spikes (Because spikes bring us certainty)


The one lie that makes me think the most is lie #3. Especially in education, we are taught that you create a strategic plan and then align your school district to that strategic plan. Building goals, individual goals are all “cascaded” down from the overarching strategic plan goals. What I came to realize from reading the book is that we substitute goals for meaning. We assume goals equate to meaning…which is false. Our job as leaders is to make sure meaning is permeated throughout the organization so people know “what they share”.

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