It is one thing to have weakness; it is another to allow your weakness to make you weak. We don’t have to be weak because of weakness. With awareness and determination, we can in fact find value in weakness and produce greater success as a result.
I have found four ways that we can leverage our weaknesses to produce more successful results. These four suggestions have the power to completely change how you view your weaknesses. They include the ability to control our choices, valuing progress, learning to adapt, avoiding assumptions and a bonus of redefining winning.
1. To Control Our Choices
Once a month, my wife and I eat at a restaurant we’ve never been to before. Inevitably, when the server arrives to take our order my wife panics, unable to make a decision. She says, “I just can’t decide, there are too many things I want to try!”
This phenomenon could be called choice overload. Our brains aren’t very good at dealing with a lot of options as too many choices can paralyze our ability to make a decision. You’ve likely experienced choice overload standing in the cereal aisle of your supermarket or when facing unlimited solutions to a business problem.
Individuals and organizations with abundant strengths can experience choice overload, seeing so many possibilities that making a choice actually becomes more difficult. Weaknesses, on the other hand, restrict our choices, making it easier to know what choice to make. Restricted choice also forces us to be intentional with those strengths that we do have.
In fact, a study from New York University found that fewer choices, not more, enhance creativity. With an abundance of strengths, there is little reason to be intentional about how we use them.
Learn to control your choices by acknowledging and respecting your weaknesses.
2. To Value Progress
“It is better to become than to be.” This was a popular saying in the early 1900’s. It has somewhat disappeared as people become more focused on what we are, rather than what we’re becoming.
When we become attached to what we believe we are, every mistake is a blow to that belief. If I am a great problem solver, but I cannot solve a problem, well, I must not be that great of a problem-solver. When strengths are abundant and the road has been smooth, it can be easy to start believing we are something. Then the slightest hint that we are still becoming is damaging to our self-image and even self-worth.
If we know we are weak, yet focus on progress, mistakes do not damage our self-image. Rather, they serve as evidence that there is still room to grow.
Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at Harvard actually discovered that focus on progress is healthier. In fact, “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress.” She has labeled this motivating effect of progress, The Progress Principle.
When you’re at the bottom there is only one place to go, up. Our weaknesses enable us to see and value progress, and progress is really, really exciting!
3. To Adapt
Imagine two different men. One of them is 298 lbs of solid muscle. Conditioned by running through the snow in Siberia, he was a man who hadn’t lost an international match in 14 years and had three consecutive Olympic gold medals. The other appears overweight and out of shape, getting teased about having a small child stuffed into his 54-inch chest. He had never even won a collegiate championship, nonetheless an international one.
Yet, Rulon Gardner managed to adapt to the situation, using what had often been a disadvantage to his advantage. He used his girth and size to outlast Alexander Karelin in Greco-Roman wresting at the 2000 Olympics to win the gold medal.
When understood, our weaknesses increase our ability and likelihood to adapt simply because we have no other choice if we wish to succeed. When strengths have gotten you this far, why change things? Rulon Gardner used his weakness to adapt. Rather than trying to dominate the match by scoring points, he committed to outlast his opponent and prevent him from getting points. This adapted strategy worked and Rulon won with a score of 1-0.
We can learn to adapt when a weakness gets in the way of our success and the very skill of adapting can become a key to success.
4. To Avoid Assumptions
Rita McGrath teaches, “Planning as though you know the outcome can lead to disaster.” One form of assumptions is the belief that we know the outcome. This can be the case when our strengths have led to specific outcomes before. We then assume that our strength was the cause of the outcome and that the outcome will happen again.
Weaknesses, on the other hand, often produce unpredictable results. So, we have a hard time assuming what might happen. We doubt ourselves and what result we can produce. If anything, we assume we cannot produce the desired outcome by repeating ourselves.
When we are aware that this is happening, we can use this tendency to prepare better. By avoiding assumptions, we can explore many alternatives and gather as much information as possible, rather than assuming that what has worked in the past will always work.
To Redefine Winning
My 6 year old and 2 year old boys were playing in our family room. They had moved an indoor plastic slide to the middle of the room and had spread pillows in a line leading away from it. Each would take his turn climbing up the slide portion and jumping as far as they could from the stairs, attempting to jump farther than the other.
It wasn’t long before my 2 year old realized that his older brother would always win this game. In this moment, he quickly decided that he might not be able to out jump a boy twice his size, but that he could certainly do it with more style.
He retrieved a cape from his room and turned each jump into a new—and unpredictable—acrobatic maneuver. His victorious announcement with each landing caused his long-jumping older brother to take notice. The tables turned, no longer did the distance of the jump matter; it was now a competition of who could perform the coolest trick.
Rather than letting his weakness defeat him, he acknowledged the reality of the situation and redefined winning.
If the reality of our weakness means we’ll never win the game we’re trying to play, we should redefine winning. Maybe the game you can’t win is a pricing game, a service game or a distribution game. Whatever the game, if you don’t have the capabilities to win it, than redefine winning.
Take Dollar Shave Club, for example, a company launched in 2012 selling subscriptions for men’s personal-care products. Knowing that they couldn’t get the shelf-space or afford halftime commercials that their Goliath competitors did, they changed the rules. They started with a $4500 YouTube video and distributed their products through the mail. 2016 revenue for the company exceeded $240-million.
The next time you are confronted with a weakness, consider these four opportunities they create. Don’t be defeated by your weakness, instead, produce the most successful outcome in spite of it.
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