Should You Focus on Strengths or Weaknesses?

I saw an interesting debate on Twitter recently between two guys who were debating whather it was better to focus on one’s strengths and leverage them for results, or whether it was better to shore up weaknesses and become more well rounded.

The conversation caught my attention because it really is a common situation people find themselves in, and most people tend to focus exclusively on one side or the other. But just like the idiom “Work smart, not hard”, you might ask yourself why not just do both?

The way I see it, your primary output should come from your strengths. I coach people because I have a lot of experience with understanding people and giving advice, and I’m now very good at it. I would never have done it 10-15 years ago when it wasn’t an absolute strength.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that your greatest strengths are actually the combination of several strengths, just as a dish you eat is good because of the combination of ingredients more than any one ingredient individually. So the way that you create a valuable and defensible strength is by building up weaknesses until you have a combination of strengths.

For example, I am not the most knowledgeable person about cruises, but I’m pretty good and I love them. I’m nowhere near the best programmer, but I’m proficient. I’m pretty good at automating processes, but not amazing. But combine those three things and I have built what I think is obviously the best cruise site as a direct product of those three skills.

If you focus too much on your strengths you can easily become one-dimensional and you are subject to in incredible amount of competition. If you’re the best programmer at a certain language, how long will it really take for someone to overcome you? Eventually you may even fall below average as more people learn the language and it evolves without you.

However, it is equally dangerous to focus on your weaknesses. I made this mistake in my twenties, where as soon as I became passable at something it would lose my interest and I would start learning something else. Eventually I found myself in a position where I had a lot of interesting superficial skills, but no combination of them was strong enough to be marketable.

Realizing the error of my ways I focused on programming, writing, interpersonal skills, and productivity. Now I can combine those in various ways to make a good living.

Once you create a good web of strengths, you have the luxury of focusing on your weaknesses as much as you like. You may even find that some of those weaknesses aren’t the impediments that they seemed to be. For example, I used to be so focused on using every minute of my time at maximum productivity, because it felt like the only way I could make progress. Now that I have a more robust set of strengths, I don’t need to be working the 12-14 hours I used to work.

If none of your strengths are to the point where they are bearing fruit, focus on building them up or leveraging them. They may be good enough, especially combined, and maybe you just don’t have the confidence to put them to use. If you fail to do that, pick one interest that’s likely to get results and focus on it.

On the other hand, if your strengths are working for you and you’re feeling like you’re stagnating, look at shoring up weaknesses or developing new skills.


Photo is my desk. It’s rarely this clean and organized.

I disabled comments on the blog because of spam. I answer all tweets on twitter (@tynan) and post photos often to instagram.






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