Strengths or Weaknesses
The human experience is a rotating kaleidoscope of talents and shortcomings. Resting on our abilities or solely focusing on our strengths can be more fun; they don’t trigger our insecurities the way confronting our shortcomings might. But, what would happen if we only focused on our strengths? Voluntarily choosing to improve our weaknesses is a path less chosen. Lonely roads lead to unique destinations.
When you find yourself in an environment where you want to grow and develop, either personally or professionally, which to choose - stay the course and focus on your strengths, or veer off-road and work on your weaknesses? And when to do which?
Over the years, I’ve developed a framework to determine when to choose between, working on my strengths or improving my weaknesses, when attempting to move forward in an area.
Like most things, it exists on a spectrum. In situations where I’m on my own, I believe working on my weaknesses will be of most benefit. On the other hand, when working in a group environment, where others can help compensate for my weaknesses, I focus more on my strengths. This way, I need not worry that my inadequacies will be the link that breaks an important chain. In between, of course, are smaller group environments, where I find a combination of both strategies works best.
The world is an ecosystem - everything is interconnected. As a result, much of life isn’t merely additive, but rather multiplicative. A person of extraordinary talent can see them negated, or worse, if their flaws are equally potent.
Mike Tyson is one of the greatest boxers of all time. He made $300 million during his illustrious career. But, in 2003, he declared bankruptcy. Lavish spending and predatory management completely negated everything he accomplished. The results were multiplicative: $300 million x 0% = $0. This effect applies to all of us as well. But we can insulate our weaknesses - when we work together.
The Group Environment
Successful organizations understand how different we are, and they do their best to ensure individuals spend the majority of their time in areas they thrive. When done properly, individuals can insulate their weaknesses, while accessing another's strengths in that same sphere.
Salespeople are often extroverts who excel at connecting with others. However, their personalities can lean towards the “big picture,” while struggling with details. To ensure their skillsets are optimized, it’s beneficial to pair them with individuals who excel in logistics. Failure to do so will usually lead to inferior results.
Other complementary examples include business analysts and computer programmers; musicians and promoters; and coaches with athletes.
The Individual Environment
Individual endeavors though are different. It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to rely on others to compensate for one’s weaknesses.
Tennis players, for example, often have stronger forehand shots than backhands. To improve, they have a choice: enhance their superior forehand, strengthen their weaker backhand, or both? While in a group dynamic, the answer is easier. Work on their strengths. Tennis players, however, have an issue. They can’t enlist a backhand specialist to take those shots. When inferior, it will be exploited. To succeed, their deficiencies must be addressed, at least to a passable degree.
This rule of thumb isn’t only applicable to the Mike Tysons and tennis players of the world. We all know people that allowed their weaknesses to harm or even ruin their lives, be it through drugs, violent behaviour, or something else. We can even see these in ourselves, perhaps it’s a short temper, lack of motivation, or fear of the unknown. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.”
So next time you’re at an impasse, or simply wanting to improve your results, remember - life isn’t additive, it’s multiplicative. Flaws can be hidden in a group environment, or at least buffered, when teamed with the right partners. However, when you’re on your own, improving your weakness, especially when extreme, may be the prudent path to take.