Book Review: What Makes You Tick?

by Ron Haynes


I was thrilled when Harper Collins contacted me to begin reviewing their new books but What Makes You Tick was a let down. The book DID make some good points and I’ll review them here.

To begin, the book’s authors, Michael Berland and Douglas Schoen, assert that there is no one way to achieve success, but that success is achieved by enhancing your innate skills. Don’t try change your personality (it never works anyway), but use your own personality to chart your own course.

The book asserts that many people confuse success with winning, and I think that’s a valid point. Though they can be sometimes intertwined, they aren’t necessarily the same. Success is more of an internal, emotional, and personal thing whereas winning is usually much more quantifiable. Winning can be part of success, but it is just functional to successful people and is simply something they do along their path to success.

The authors break down successful people into four primary categories:

  • Natural Born Leaders – self confident from an early age, this personality type sees a big picture and naturally takes charge. They rarely get stuck on the details and have the innate ability to inspire others. They help other people succeed and fit well within large, complex organizations. They do things faster than the average person and are comfortable delegating. They usually put the company and its needs ahead of personal needs. Examples are Bud Selig of Major League Baseball, Brenda Barnes of Sara Lee Corporation, and Richard Parsons of Citigroup.
  • Independence Seekers – wanting to constantly live life on their own terms, independence seekers do what they want when they want. They are very goal oriented and also exude self confidence much like the natural born leaders. Failure is never an option for them and they have a risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit. They don’t take themselves too seriously and don’t have to be the best, just good enough to meet their definition of success. They thrive on high profile recognition and are more interested in personal success than in organizational success. Examples include Bobby Flay of the Food Network, Heidi Klum of Project Runway, and Sergio Zyman, formerly the Chief Marketing Officer of Coca-Cola.
  • Visionaries – doing and seeing what others do not, visionaries have a strong desire for change and ask “Why not?” rather than “Why?” They look at issues from many angles and have a strong creative nature. They believe they were born for a mission and have a relentless drive, regardless of the setbacks that pop up.Less concerned with recognition than with personal fulfillment, visionaries generally prefer to do things themselves and surround themselves with true Kool-Aid drinkers true believers. Examples include Mark Burnett, executive producer of Survivor, Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Brian France, CEO of NASCAR.
  • Do-Gooders – motivated by their strong moral compass, these leaders are more than comfortable with criticism since they’re working toward a high ideal. They’re naturally optimistic and serious about their work. They are willing to sacrifice, both themselves and others, for what they see as the “greater good.” They also have a strong preference for like-minded people and strongly identify with their cause. Examples include Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Roger Barnett of Shaklee Corporation, and Gwendolyn Sykes, CFO  of Yale University.

All that information was in the first 14 pages, the next 257 pages are “interviews” that read more like a questionnaire answered by the different people that the authors put into one of their five categories. Wait. FIVE categories? I thought there were four! They slipped one in without any discussion of it and made the book a little confusing. The fifth category was Independents Who Follow Their Dreams and that section follows the same “interview” process.

The “interviews” begin with what feels like an introduction at a graduation ceremony, and follows with the interviewee writing about his or her ideas, history, failures, ideas, thoughts, and philosophies. In essence, the book was written by interviewees and edited by the authors.

The interviews are rambling, some are vaguely interesting, many are quite boring. Some are very short, some are far too long, and none really seemed to follow the premise of the book, namely finding out what makes someone “tick?”

Late in the book, the authors reveal their political leanings and it’s the same old, tired, Bush bashing rhetoric. Yes, they actually mention names and say that Bush was a bad, “independence seeker” who lost interest in the Iraq war and Obama is a great, natural born leader who’s election to the Senate was a natural progression in his quest for goal achievement (conveniently forgetting that the highly popular Republican he was running against was caught up in scandal late in the campaign). In reality, Obama fits the classic “do-gooder” profile, serious, idealistic, pursuing what he believes is the greater good over the interests of the organization as a whole, and a management style based on personal contact and connections. Then I read that the authors were Democratic strategists and it all began to make sense. “Natural born leader” is much more flattering. When you look at who all they “interviewed”,” it really shows through. At some point, all this political nonsense needs to end.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

Don’t buy. Period. This wasn’t a particularly inspirational or motivating book and held no information that isn’t readily available on this blog or any one of a number of others.

Hopefully, my first review of a Harper Collins book won’t preclude me from an invitation to review others,. Even though the first 14 pages and the last 6 pages were well written and somewhat informative,  this book struggled to reach the level of “mediocre at best” in my opinion.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.