Why You Should Double Down On Strengths
Or — The Regret I No Longer Regret
Have you ever been asked…
What advice would you give your 20-year old self?
It was my answer to this question that made me realize the importance of doubling down on strengths.
My answer was… “I would pay more attention in class.”
I said this because, as a new founder, there’s a lot you have to do that you’ve never done before. Raise money, recruit a team, split equity, acquire customers… just to name a few.
So thinking back to age 20, I realized there were a lot of classes that I missed or didn’t pay attention to, which covered topics any entrepreneur would benefit from.
But the more I reflected on this “regret”, the more I realized that it shouldn’t be a regret at all.
Because — fuck that.
I was never the kid to sit in the front row, take diligent notes, and study them again that night. I know and love plenty of those people. But that’s just not me. I’m a different person with a different set of strengths.
So, my retrospective advice was essentially telling myself to not be me. To change fundamental aspects of who I am. And to focus on fixing weaknesses rather than optimizing strengths.
And that’s wrong.
Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn new things or seek to improve. That’s the opposite of my message.
I still need to learn those things… but I don’t need to go “deep” on them. Rather, I need to go “shallow” — meaning, I need to understand enough to hang in a conversation and think strategically about it.
Why should I spend half a year of life studying the ins and outs of something that bores the shit out of me and I’ll never use again? Something that I’ll never be, or want to be, great at.
This isn’t a post about what to study in college. Study anything that interests you. Learn as much as you can. A topic for another day.
No, this is a post about strengths and weaknesses.
About the difference between going wide and shallow versus narrow and deep. The difference between researching something for an hour versus studying it for 10 years.
As an entrepreneur, a leader, a manager, whatever you are — there are going to be things that you aren’t great at but need to get done. It’s the nature of the work. Does that mean you need to be an expert in all of those things?
Of course not…
That’s why you hire people. Hiring is leverage. You save time by 1) not having to learn it and 2) not having to do it. And you spend that time on things you are great at. Things you are an expert in. Things that you have gone narrow and deep on.
And consequently you find someone really talented, and way better than you, to do those other things. Things they are an expert in. Things they go narrow and deep on.
The point is — Play to your strengths. Understand what they are, focus on mastering them, and use them to your benefit.
Too much is said about needing to have a wide-ranging set of knowledge. Especially in business. Academia (specifically HS & undergrad) has you go wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep.
Wide and shallow makes you decent in all things. Narrow and deep makes you great in one.
In an interview with Jony Ive and JJ Abrams, Jony talks about how they refocused his role at Apple to eliminate managerial work. Around minute 34 he says the following:
“The most valuable contribution I can make to Apple certainly isn’t my administrative prowess.”
And you might think — duh!
You don’t turn Jony Ive into a manager. He’s an incredible designer. Let him design and bring in someone else to manage. Doing the opposite would be a disservice to Jony, the company, and because of Apple’s scope — the world.
He also mentions that now, being fully focused on design, he feels happier and more creative than ever.
The “play to your strengths” strategy has profound impacts.
It allows you to focus on the things you’re great at. And subsequently creates an organization of high-performing individuals pushing happily in the same direction.
Take this concept and apply it to your own work. But keep in mind — this is strictly for business. If you’re an asshole, this doesn’t mean you should try to be a bigger asshole.
In your personal life you need to work at your weaknesses. In business you hire for them.
Focus on getting better at what you’re good at.
Because even within your strength, there is weakness.
You can always improve. And your company is better off with you going narrow and deep on that strength and becoming an expert in that field — while everyone else does the same.
It starts with understanding yourself and being incredibly honest with what you’re good at and what you’re not.