Build on your strength, not a weakness or something just OK
Peter Drucker, The Father of Modern Management told us that we must build on our strengths, not our weaknesses. If we spend significant time, money, and effort trying to build something when the best we can achieve are only marginal benefits for our efforts, we are making a major misallocation of our always limited resources.
Former GE CEO Jack Welch, credits Drucker advice as the basis of his amazing success during his tenure as CEO of GE. On retirement he received the largest retirement package ($417 million) ever awarded to a retiring CEO from any corporation. Fortune Magazine named him “Manager of the Century.” Welch had directed that if a GE business was not number one or two in its market, and was unlikely to become such, even if profitable, the business would be sold or liquidated and the resources invested in GE businesses of more potential for greater gain. This is a near-perfect example of what Drucker recommended. The result was increasing GE’s already high value by 4,000 per cent in nine years.
People do not always know their strengths
You’ve probably heard the old expression, “He doesn’t know his own strength.” Drucker found that though most people think they know their strengths, they are almost invariably wrong. Yet building on strength is of great importance, Jack Welch demonstrated that. focusing on a less important factor and missing a bigger one, or spending too much time in eliminating a weakness which might be of lesser importance or even irrelevant can even cause us – in the common vernacular – “to miss our calling” or at least to miss the opportunities in many situations which lead to success.
How to identify your strengths
Drucker said that there was only one way to identify your strengths. He called it “feedback analysis.” He said that in a short time you would be able to identify your own strengths and even promised that you’d usually be surprised at the results.
Drucker’s advised methodology was simple. Whenever you take an important action or decision, write down the outcome that you expect first. When results are achieved, compare them with those you had expected. If expected and actual results are the same or close, this identifies a strength and you should exploit it. Drucker’s system works because you will usually, but not always, be able to predict an outcome accurately if you have the required strength that you expected and will fail do so if you do not. Continue to do this and after a while a clear picture of your confirmed strengths will emerge.
What should you do next?
Drucker said that this knowledge must be followed by “action conclusions.” Here are a few of his suggestions.
Use your strengths to achieve something spectacular
I recently read that ‘30s and ‘40s movie actress Hedy Lamarr, was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria. She made lots of films but was best known for an early one made in Czechoslovakia in 1933 called “Ecstasy” which defined her film persona. Need I say more? Lamarr although few knew it, was well educated, a math prodigy and co-inventor of wireless technology used in Bluetooth and cell phones of today. She was even inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Lamarr made 32 films. Some were fair, but none were spectacular. The technology she invented was indeed spectacular. Only she would be able to answer the question as to whether she chose wisely in developing her strength and resources to B-movie acting over mathematics and inventing. Maybe she did what she enjoyed best, and that is indeed an important factor. Perhaps she considered what she achieved with her beauty and acting ability to be more self satisfying and this shouldn’t be ignored. However, the tremendous results she achieved in science with minimum time and resources are unquestioned. What if she had allocated her time, money and effort differently? I never watched any of her movies, but to the best of my knowledge, she never won any special acclaim.
Strengthen your strengths
Steve Jobs was a young student dropout who left Reeds College in Portland, Oregon after one semester. The young ex-college student had learned something about electronics previously and although he liked the idea of personal computers, he couldn’t so much as build a computer board himself in those days. Fortunately for him, he had a friend, Steve Wozniak, who could. Wozniak gave him a computer board, that is a complete computer built on a single circuit board, with microprocessor, memory, input/output (I/O) and other features required of a functional computer that he had constructed. Jobs had this board with him during a job interview with the Atari Company which built computer games. Atari hired Jobs as a technician, assuming that it was he that had built the computer board. Jobs saved his money earned as an Atari technician and when he had enough money saved, he left for India in search of spiritual enlightenment.
Meanwhile, his friend Steve Wozniak had gone on to build a working personal computer which he showed to Jobs on his return. This was Job’s crossroad. Jobs grasped the potential immediately and left Atari after persuading Wozniak to start a company with him to manufacture and sell the computer Wozniak had built. He developed his ability to visualize and based on his success founded the entire personal computer industry. He concluded that he’d been enlightened sufficiently, and except for vacations or business, didn’t return to India.
Avoid intellectual arrogance
Drucker warned that overwhelming knowledge in only one area to the exclusion of all else was a mistake. Psychologically it blocked intellectual innovation in many other areas. Drucker said such people frequently demonstrated limited performance because they excluded knowledge from other fields needed to supplement their work even if it was a strength.
Albert Einstein was pretty good at math, but after graduating from college, he took the only job as an assistant examiner at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland. He won his success not by scientific management and quantitative analysis, but by using his imagination while working in this dead-end job. Einstein was only 26. He had no access to computers, (which didn’t exist), white-coated lab workers or student assistants. He had no university connection. Despite these limitations, in 1905 he wrote four major scientific papers published in a single year while at the Patent Office including confirming the speed of light and what has been called the most famous equation ever developed: E =MC². This unique achievement caught the attention of established scientists and gained him reputation and fame. He was offered and accepted a position as a university professor, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and achieved world fame for his amazing accomplishments - all made in that single year.
Other “action conclusions” recommended by Drucker
• Remedy serious shortcomings or bad habits
If you have serious problems, fix them. If your best work doesn’t come when you are inebriated, don’t drink.
• Social skills may be more important than you think
Many bright, knowledgeable people fail because they ignore simple social graces like saying “thank you.” Drucker called manners the “lubricating oil” necessary for best practice and was frequently needed for gaining support from others for their activities.
• Don’t take on assignments in which you are not yet competent
Don’t act as a Cantonese interpreter unless you can speak and understand Cantonese. A no-brainer? Yet, how many overly ambitious managers without the requisite knowledge use office politics to get ahead and take on tasks for which they are not yet competent. This is different from taking on tasks for which you are competent but lack confidence because you haven’t done them before. Incompetence can cause huge failures which stop further advancement.
• Don’t waste time and effort on raising your performance in areas where
you cannot attain a significant advantage
Jack Welch grew GE 4,000 per cent during his tenure as CEO not by squeezing small change out of every profitable business, but by selling off or closing every GE business, including those profitable, which was not, or could not, become number one or two in its industry.
A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher by William A. Cohen (AMACOM, 2008)
Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top Lessons for Reaching Your Life Goals by William Cohen (LID, 2019).