We human beings are hard-wired to put our attention on our weaknesses and focus on improving them.
If you have a customer who tells you that your product was perfect, but the packaging was ugly — then you’re probably like most people who are driven to focus on the packaging. We just want to focus on exactly the one area where we’re are not as excellent as the others. Our one weakness. And why not, if we ever ‘caught up’ to our strengths in the area of our weaknesses – we’d be totally unstoppable, right?
And then, a few years back a book called “Now Discover your Strengths” by Marcus Muckingham and Donald Clifton first turned that theory on its head. They said, “No, no, no — you need to focus on your strengths. “ First of all what you put your attention on grows, so if you focus on your weaknesses then you’ll have more weaknesses and more time spent doing that thing that you are weak at.
If you focus on your strengths and the areas where you are strong then that grows and your strengths grow and you get more and more time in a high productivity or effectiveness state, because you are doing what you are best at.
So which is right?
Well I think both theories are half right, but neither has the complete story.
As an entrepreneur you are often wearing all the hats. You might have one or two assistants, or a couple of people working with you – but for the most part, particularly at the startup phase – it can feel like it’s basically up to you.
So you have to do everything at first. This means you cant afford to only do the things you’re good at. You have to do the things you’re bad at as well.
The part of the story that is missing from the debate on whether to focus on strengths or weaknesses is that your business has its own requirements that are totally independent of your abilities. Just like your car doesn’t care if you are better at steering than working the gears; if you don’t get it out of neutral, you’re not going anywhere.
In each area of business, there are two thresholds that are crucially important. The first is the threshold between broken and maintaining.
Below the dotted line, and the thing just doesn’t work. Above the line and it’s just barely being maintained.
The second threshold is between maintenance (where you are getting by and making sure that you can continue to produce the same results in the future that you have in the past) and truly innovating (your zone of genius, where you are producing better results than perhaps have been produced before.)
Normally as entrepreneurs, our strengths look like this and our weaknesses look like this:
It’s like having the most beautiful first class cabins on a yacht, but with a big hole in the boat under the waterline. And any hole under this waterline… can really sink your ship.
So you have to focus on your weaknesses until they get above the waterline and into maintenance. You don’t have to be great or even good. You just have to not suck. You have to not be fatally bad.
One of my weaknesses is planning work and estimating how long something is going to take. If it’s below the failure point, then I’m likely to make a big crucial promise and then blow it so badly that it’s not humanly possible for me to keep my promise and I damage the relationship because even my strengths can’t make up for that.
But if I can plan just well enough – not like a genius planner who really gets it and knows exactly how to see into the future and see all the possible problems like Jennifer can. (Jennifer can see into the future, and do simultaneous scenario planning real time and always come up with the most effective way to achieve a result with minimum risk of failure.) I don’t have to be as good as Jennifer. I just have to be good enough so that my personal strengths – like my ability to find key points that can instantly change the growth trajectory of a business – can really be leveraged.
And once there are no holes in the water line, suddenly all those years of investment you’ve put into being great at the things you are great at can really shine and you get so much more leverage. In fact, you get more leverage in your area of strength out of this little difference here than you do from your time focusing on your strengths.
So, there it is. How to tackle your weaknesses and leverage your strengths — first take care of every hole below your line, and THEN focus on strengths. Your business will start growing much more quickly.
If you want support in tackling your weaknesses (including which to tackle first and in what order to proceed) check out our Step-By-Step Entrepreneur training: the Mind Money Meaning system. Or if you’re really ready get started on the rapid growth of your business as soon as this weekend (that’s right, THIS WEEKEND!) – attend our Rapid Growth Summit. Today’s the last day to get on board.