This is a guest post.
When I was a kid, I brought home a report card from school. I got an A in every subject, except English. I hated English. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was getting a C.
How did my parents respond? Did they compliment me on my excellent work in most of my classes? Did they encourage me to focus my efforts on those areas where I was having success? No. Instead, they wanted to talk about English. What was I doing wrong? How could I do better? Was I trying hard enough?
They believed, as most parents, managers and employees do, that we need to be well-rounded. We should have knowledge and skills in a variety of different areas. It is a liability to have areas of weakness. Even though most people believe this, it isn’t true.
Shaquille O’Neal can’t shoot free throws. He’s terrible, always has been, always will be. This isn’t his only problem. He doesn’t shoot well from anywhere outside of five feet and he doesn’t even attempt three-point shots. He doesn’t handle the ball well either. In other words, he’s got a lot of bad grades on his report card.
If it was important to be well-rounded, then we would expect that Shaquille is struggling to find success. But we’d be wrong. He has won four NBA Championships with two different teams and was the MVP for three years. During many of those seasons, other teams tried to exploit his weakness by fouling him every time he got the ball. They called it Hack-A-Shaq and it didn’t work. His teams kept on winning.
Shaquille is different than most people. He is more than seven feet tall and weighs 325 pounds. Because of his incredible size and strength, he only needs to be good at one thing, catching the ball and putting it in the basket from very close range. His good grade in this area makes his other bad grades irrelevant.
It is the same with you. You don’t need to be, and you can’t be, good at everything. Don’t try to be well-rounded. Instead, freak out. Capitalize on your unique abilities and forget about your weaknesses. They don’t matter.
What are your unique skills and characteristics?
How can you build on your strengths so that your weaknesses become irrelevant?
We tend to do what other people are doing. We are copycats. We want to fit in. We don’t want to be different or unusual. We don’t want to stick out.
There is one big problem with this strategy; fitting in makes us invisible. It makes us disappear. If we do it well, no one can see us. We don’t get any attention.
If we fit in at work, we don’t get in trouble. We don’t get fired, but we don’t get promoted either. We don’t get interesting projects and we don’t get challenging tasks. No one knows who we are.
If our business fits in, everyone drives right by. No one stops. They don’t know we’re even there.
If they do stop, they don’t stay long and they don’t buy anything because our products or services are just like everyone else’s.
Hardee’s had a problem. They were going out of business. They were unable to compete with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King. It seemed like there wasn’t room for four major fast food restaurants.
When the other major chains began adding healthy choices like salad, fruit and yogurt, it seemed like Hardee’s would have to do the same in order to keep up. But they never added any of these items. Instead of copying the other restaurants, they did the opposite. They created Thickburgers, huge, fatty, calorie-laden burgers that clogged arteries and gave people instant diabetes.
They didn’t try to fit in. When everyone else make their menus healthier, Hardee’s deliberately made their menu unhealthier. They tried to stick out and it worked. They are no longer on the brink of bankruptcy and they have started adding new locations, instead of closing them down.
How can you stick out?
What is everyone else doing?
How can you do the opposite?
When I ask my students to list their weaknesses, the most popular is procrastination. In fact, in most classes, every student admits to having a problem in this area. Books, articles, seminars and blog posts on overcoming procrastination are universally popular. Unfortunately, they don’t work. People keep procrastinating. They can’t help it. Why is it such a problem? I don’t think it is.
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow and end up just as well.” – Mark Twain
What do you procrastinate? If you are like most people, and I’m not recommending that (see #2), then you procrastinate activities that you don’t enjoy and that you don’t do well. You wait to do them until it is absolutely necessary because you’d rather be doing something else. You’d rather be doing something that you do enjoy and that you are good at.
Procrastination is good. It is a sign that we have wandered away from our strengths, that we have strayed from those activities where we can have tremendous success. Instead of procrastinating less, we should actually procrastinate more. We should simply stop doing the activities that we usually procrastinate.
If this sounds unreasonable, read Jim Collins’ bestselling book, Good to Great. He explains that successful people and great organizations have a “stop-doing” list. They deliberately eliminate activities that they don’t do well or that don’t fit with their mission. Management guru, Peter Drucker, referred to this as “organized abandonment.” Additionally, Marcus Buckingham argues that the most important thing to know about personal success is, “if you don’t like it, stop doing it.”
What do you procrastinate?
What don’t you do well?
What don’t you like to do?
How can you begin eliminating these activities from your life and work?
What do you want? Do you want to be more organized, lose weight, get a promotion or have a better marriage? Most self-help books have one primary suggestion on how to do this, use self-discipline to simply act differently. They argue that if we just wanted it bad enough, we’d be able to make the change. Because of this, we believe that if we just had more self-control, we’d be able to achieve our goals.
In this view, people are successful because they have self-control and others are failing because they lack self-control. I disagree.
“People think I’m disciplined. It’s not discipline. It’s devotion.” – Luciano Pavarotti
Here is what I think. I believe that we all have the same amount of self-control. We don’t get more or less than anyone else. Successful people do not have extra discipline, they just use what they have more wisely. Similarly, we often have difficulty because we are using our discipline in the wrong places.
What are the wrong places? Fixing weaknesses, trying to fit in and fighting procrastination are the wrong places. These activities drain our energy. They sap our self-discipline.
How can we use our energy more efficiently? Build on strengths, freak out and embrace permanent procrastination. These activities are fueled by devotion, not discipline. They rely on passion instead of pain.
Devotion is more powerful and more abundant than discipline. As the entire world begins to search for alternative fuels to power our vehicles, maybe it is time to consider an alternative fuel for powering our lives.
What drains you?
What renews your energy?
How can you improve your fuel efficiency?
When things go bad, when we lose our job, when someone breaks up with us, when we don’t get the promotion, we assume that something is wrong with us. We search for our flaws, the reasons for our failure, and start trying to fix them.
The reason that this doesn’t work is that there is nothing wrong with you. Yes, you read that right. There is nothing wrong with you.
“A strength not utilized is like a sundial in the shade.” – Benjamin Franklin
How does a sundial work? What does it require? It tells time by casting a shadow on the appropriate hour. It needs to be in the sun.
What happens when you put a sundial in the shade? Does it work? No, it doesn’t work.
But is it broken? Is something wrong with it? No, it isn’t broken and nothing is wrong with it.
Then what is the problem? The problem is that the sundial is in the shade. It is in the wrong spot. The sundial doesn’t need to be fixed; it needs to be moved.
It is the same in our lives and our work. When things go bad, it is not because something is wrong with us. It is because we are in the wrong spot. The job or the relationship didn’t work out because it was the wrong fit.
Instead of fixing our weaknesses, we need to look for the right fit. We need to find situations that match our strengths, highlight our abilities, and bring out the best in us. We need to get out of the shade and into the sun.
What is your shade?
How can you find the sun?
Don’t believe the myths. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s time to start freaking out, sticking out, procrastinating more, and using less self-control.
David Rendall is a professor, entrepreneur, speaker and author of The Four Factors of Effective Leadership. His current project is The Freak Factor: Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weakness.
If you want to learn more about how to freak out, you can read his manifesto: www.changethis.com/45.02.FreakFactor.
Or visit his blog: www.daverendall.typepad.com