Friday, August 30, 2013

When to play to your strengths

Should you always focus on your strengths? Today we discussed some criteria for deciding when focusing exclusively on your strengths makes sense and when it doesn't.

One criteria is timeframe. Take soccer for example. During a single game you might be able to exclusive kick with your strong leg and use your best moves. Maybe the whole game goes by without the need for you to do something else, and focusing on your strengths will likely improve your performance. But consider an entire season and it becomes unlikely you will be able to avoid all your weak spots. So maybe you focus on your strengths during specific games, particularly important ones, but work on your weaknesses during practices.

Another criteria is wether a weak point can be ignored entirely or not. Staying with the soccer analogy, suppose you are weak at penalty kicks, but plenty of your teammates are good at it. You can probably go the whole season without needing to do a penalty kick - just let your teammates do them and focus on the strengths that will help your team - maybe your passes and your defense. But if your weakness is your kicks with your Left foot, you won't be able to avoid making some kicks with your Left foot during an entire season, so you better improve at it.

Then there are the circumstances: some require you to be well-rounded, others to be a specialist. Compare speed sailing versus course racing. For speed sailing, all you have to do is go very fast for 500 meters. No strategy, no endurance, no tactics, no maneuvers. In course racing you also have to go fast, but you need to be strategic (which side of the course to take), you need endurance (the race might last an hour), you need fast maneuvers (tacks, gybes), and you need to make quick tactical decisions (do I tack away from the incoming sailor or cover him). If your strength is your ability to go very fast and you like to do speed sailing, you can ignore your weaknesses. But if you want to do course racing, you need to make sure you don't have any weak spots. What you can do, though, is to leverage your strong areas to help you with your weak ones. If you start a race by going very fast and getting ahead of the fleet then your tactics get easier and your maneuvers don't need to be as fast. In other words, start by leveraging your strength to give you an advantage, then worry about not doing too bad on your weak areas.

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