What happens when you realize that you’ve built something that requires more expertise than you have? Usually, anxiety happens. And this can lead us into a trap of believing that if we just try harder for longer, we will figure it out. After all, isn’t that how we made it this far—trying harder? Inevitably, we may find ourselves exerting a tremendous amount of energy trying to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
As I wrote about earlier, pulling on our own bootstraps is usually a fight we can’t win.
So, I propose a redirection of all that energy toward understanding what you can do better than anyone else.
I think Gary Keller and Jay Papasan illustrate this concept well in their book, The One Thing. They explore the power of understanding how and where to focus our energies to make the greatest impact, and they point to the example of “the domino effect.” In short, I can push on a domino that’s a fraction of a square inch, and 29 dominos later, if each domino is one and a half times the size of the domino in front of it, I could knock down a domino the size of the Empire State Building.
Let’s dwell on that for just a second.
By investing our time intentionally to understand where we need to push, we can exert less effort and have a greater impact than trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. After accepting that your greatest benefit to what you have created is to apply your energies where you will get the greatest return on that investment, dig deeper to find and define your strengths and weaknesses. I recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0 from Gallup and Tom Rath to get started. This is also an easy-to-read book that can have profound implications.
Understanding your natural strengths as a business owner and leader can help you identify quickly where you are lacking. For example, my top five strengths are ideation, strategic, input, futuristic and connectedness. I have learned to embrace those core strengths. I also have acknowledged that some of my weakest characteristics further down the list, like harmony, competition and discipline, are necessary for leading a successful business.
I could say that I need to work harder to turn my weaknesses into strengths and be a well-rounded person. And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with striving to be well rounded—but that is a journey of a lifetime that our businesses cannot wait for us to complete. Instead of throwing all my energy toward what I am not good at, I’ve found the best use of my energy is to invest it where I can generate the greatest amount of return on investment.
Using another physics example, take the gears on a bike. The point of having gears on a bike is to create the ability to adjust the return on energy input from our legs, to the petals, to the gears, through the chain, to the wheels. By adjusting up and down through the gears, we can ensure that we are getting as much return on investment for our energy as possible.
At too low a gear, we are pushing harder than we need to and expending energy we will need later. At too high a gear, we are pedaling fast but not getting the maximum amount of return per push. Understanding our strengths is tantamount to being able to dial in the gears on our bike based on the financial terrain to maximize the return on investment for our energy spent moving our business down the road.
Instead of trying to pedal faster or harder to make up for our weakness, we need to know where to push to generate the greatest return on investment and find others to invest their time and energy in the areas where they are strongest. There are people who are amazing where we are lacking. Finding them and adding them to our teams is a much greater use of our time and resources than trying to become mediocre at doing something we weren’t good at to begin with.
Lastly, I suggest taking time to read Jim Collins’s Good to Great or a current take on it in Gino Wickman’s Traction. Collins uses the example of a flywheel. His proposition is that if we are willing to focus our energy on moving forward the thing(s) we are best at, both personally and as a business, we can build momentum and get the greatest return on investment.
Whether it is a domino, bicycle or flywheel, there are numerous examples of how the most important journey we will embark on is the one where we invest in discovering how we can apply our strengths to a focused area that will generate the greatest impact and return on investment for our time and energy.
We can choose to expend our energy pulling on our own bootstraps—usually out of some sense that we have to do it all by ourselves. If we do, it’s likely that our business will never be more than what we have to offer, and our return on investment will be limited to our own strengths and by our own weaknesses. Or we can choose to start pushing from a position of our greatest strengths, setting our domino, bicycle, flywheel, business in motion, potentially changing the course of our careers.
If you are going to exert all that energy, why not send it in a direction that can create change and foster success? Knowing your strengths can help you identify the kind of strengths you need to find to supplement your business strategy—more on that in the next article.