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August 31, 2010 / Mike Biggs

Play to your strengths and save your energy

Cover of "Outliers: The Story of Success&...

Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

I am a fan of playing to one’s strengths. I am a bit lazy but this is not the reason.

This post is only being published now because I have gone through a transformation as a result of this paradigm shift in my self view.

the back story

After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I was englightened to the reasons for success and also inspired to use the key patterns to my advantage rather than as an excuse for lifelong under-achieving.

They key take- aways from the book [for me] were:

  • In school you are taught to brush up on your weak subjects so that you can be a well rounded student, this wastes valuable time in areas that you have potentially no interest, ability, or conviction.
  • To be an expert you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing it.
  • Your window of opportunity is usually narrow and timely. The intersection between your time available, the right time in the market, and right time in  your life.
  • Big successes like Bill Gates & Steve Jobs are the product of ultra ‘right’ timing, which created their opportunity.
  • The key to understand is not that you should be a victim to particular circumstance, but to create the circumstances that lead to the opportunities.

My current application of the ‘play to your strengths’ concept:

I have recently entered the job market, seeking a role that is a good fit for my unique niche of skills and experience. Until recently I had grossly underestimated the value of my technical and digital experese, which under close inspection is extensive.

Before that I thought that everyone knew how to hack HTML, do their own domain management, and setup open source products on private hosting [i should note that i have chosen not to do this with this blog].

So, it turns out that I am a bit of a specialist at the intersection between Marketing, Client Management, AND Deep Technical Knowledge. This is fairly unique. Most marketeers are good with people but may have limited understanding of how the technical aspects of a campaign or product work, on the other hand, the highly technical people are generally not great with people, nor do they feel comfortable in the paradoxical world of marketing.

The outcome of this revelation has had a number of affects for me.

It has allowed me to hone my career search into a few roles where my skills and experience are what I would an ultra high fit. This is going to help me in a number of ways, least of all land a role that is appropriate, but further to that, offer an incubator for further specialist development in my area of expertise. Not to mention it being a nice place to spend my time.

AND

It has allowed me to throw off the shackles of broad mediochre performance, previosly expected of myself across all marketing [and business] diciplines. In marketing we tell our clients and each other that the best way to differentiate a company or a brand is to choose a few things at the core of the brand, and become a specialist in that area. Why not listen to your own advice and apply this to the individual also.

I would imagine this comes as no surprise to GEN Y readers who are used to a world that is highly specialised, and since many of the young recruits are working in an expert contractor capacity already. Maybe it’s just us GEN X fogies who, after a long period of apathy, actually listened to our forefathers and old role models when they told us to pay attention in school and work on our weaknesses.

Now I just say, ignore your weaknesses and focus on your strengths. Be part of a team that includes experts in the areas you are not strong, this allows those areas to be managed, and gives you the elbow and ceiling room to excel in your area.

So, it turns out that I am a fine example of a digital producer. It comes as a surprise as I thought anyone to do with digital was a tight jeans wearing emo flake who didn’t really know anything about marketing let alone business!

Wrong I was. And that’s another thing they don’t teach you in school. That’s right, it’s ok to be wrong.

I’ll repeat this one as it is very important. IT IS OK TO BE WRONG. and more to the point, the more often you are wrong, the better at the thing you are wrong about, you will become. It’s not an accident, it’s science. Look at how a scientist develops a hypothesis, then tests it,  will most likely be wrong, changes the hypothesis and keeps testing. Be prepared to fail and you will do very well.

More on being wrong and failing in articles to come.

Other real world examples of playing to your strengths:

  • A tall person can do very well in basketball
  • Women would not do very well if competing in the ‘Strongmen of europe’ contest
  • Artists and musicians do not generally run their own business and finance affairs

What are your strengths? and what are your weaknesses that you should ignore so that you can get on with it?

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One Comment

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  1. Anthony / Aug 31 2010 5:26 pm

    This is so true. There are some things in life or business that you will just never be good at, its incredibly counterproductive to spend so much time and stress yourself out over something that we have little or no power over. Being a specialist in any field is the way to go. Like the saying goes, jack of all trades…master of none. Not the best way to be selling yourself in the cut throat market.

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