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  May 20, 2016
Improving Our Strengths...


Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work. 
                                     ~Steven Pressfield

It wasn’t too long ago when I found myself at my friend Danny’s house.

Several years ago, Danny and I played together in a rock-and-roll band with gigs at several local beach taverns and pubs for tips and free drinks.

There were six of us in the band... five of us played guitar... and one, Danny, played the drums. Needless to say, there really couldn’t be five guitar players. Therefore those of us, who could, ended up playing another instrument...

I ended up playing the harmonica (which I was fairly proficient at) and lending myself to back-up percussion and Quitar playingvocals when the song didn’t call for a harmonica.

While at Danny’s house, I saw a couple of guitars lying around. I asked him why he had them, since he was normally a drummer and he responded by picking up one of the guitars and playing me a song.

I was completely taken aback. 

Although he was definitely a better drummer than guitarist, he was nonetheless quite adept at playing the guitar.

I picked up the other guitar and we played several songs together, after which time the doorbell rang.

I answered the door and found our friend Alan on the stoop.

"Oh yeah... I forgot to mention that I invited Alan over for dinner as well", Danny yelled to me from the other room.

Danny was still playing his guitar when Alan and I entered the living room.

Upon seeing Danny playing the guitar, Alan immediately picked up the other guitar and started playing along. 

Now I thought I was in the twilight zone as Alan had never been a guitar player... he was a classical piano player!

After they both finished their rendition of George Harrison’s "My Sweet Lord", I felt compelled to ask them about their hidden talent of guitar playing.
Both responded with a similar answer.

It seems that they had become very capable at their instrument of choice (drums and piano respectively) but that they felt that by learning to play the guitar as well, they could gain some added knowledge in playing their own instrument. 

This discovery led us into a deep and profound conversation (over dinner and a few glasses of wine) regarding the benefit of breadth of knowledge complimenting depth of knowledge.

We hypothesized that it was nearly impossible to really become an expert in one specialized field without gaining a certain amount of peripheral knowledge and skills in surrounding areas... whether it was playing an instrument, writing, cooking, business, sports, economics, travel or any other topic of interest.

In fact, we decided that the deeper the expertise is in one subject... the wider the breadth of overall knowledge in related fields becomes.

The following day as I was driving to work, I mulled over the ideas that we had discussed the night before and built a mental model of what this might look like on paper. 


Malcolm Gladwell touches on this subject in his book Outliers.  In the book, he discusses the idea that in order for a person to truly become an expert in his/her field, that person must log at least 10,000 hours of deliberate and focused practice.

However, practicing the same things over and over, doesn’t necessarily make someone’s skill levels to grow.

Imagine if someone practiced, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on their violin for 10,000 hours. Yes... they would become very good at that particular song... but they would never truly grow as a violinist.

In order to fully become a violin virtuoso, that person would need to continue to push themselves into uncharted territory, building upon what they already knew and propelling them to learn new skills... even if this meant that they needed to expand their repertoire into different genres of music, learning to playing different instruments, and expanding their knowledge of musical theory and history.

It’s also important to note that these new skills should be related under the umbrella of the original area of expertise...

There is little or no benefit (in terms of adding to the existing expertise) in adding a skill completely unrelated.

For instance, if a person is trying to become an expert in golf, it might be beneficial to learn meditation and controlled breathing as to be able to rein in their emotions on the golf course during stressful moments.

Although meditation and breathing control is not necessarily a part of golf instruction... there are definitely some peripheral benefits to the professional golfer.

Compare that to the professional golfer learning the completely unrelated skill of cupcake icing or programming Ruby on Rails to create better websites.

Although these might be fun distractions... they would do nothing constructively positive to improving the professional’s golf game.

While it is good for us to to add related skills to our skill set... we also have a tendency to want to work on those things in conjunction with those that we aren’t necessarily good at.

The principles of personal development tell us that we should be devoting more time to working on our weaknesses rather than honing our strengths. This is not necessarily bad advice; however, if we work on our strengths, many of our weaknesses will ultimately improve by association.

If we focus all of our time working solely to improve our weaknesses, then we will take valuable time away from improving our strengths from good to great...

If we are a great sales person... there is no reason that we should be spending valuable time trying to learn how to enter orders into the company’s ERP system (let someone else do that work so we can spend more time selling).

We can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to improve our weaknesses... but the best we can hope for is to improve ourselves from poor to mediocre.

The best way we can become great at something is to devote a lot of time to deliberate practice... add a breadth of knowledge that helps us to stretch and grow our expertise... and avoid wasting too much time doing things that we are not particularly good at or should not be doing in the first place.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we do what we do best so you can spend your valuable time doing what you do best.

Jim Kalb

Jim Kalb President

Email - jimk@optifuse.com
Website - www.optifuse.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse

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