I Want My Kids to Fail… What a great article! Sounds crazy, but I think we all need to learn how to gracefully lose, and then to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.
Thomas Edison said of his attempts at creating the first light bulb that he did not fail 10,000 (yes, that is ten thousand!) times, but rather found 10,000 ways that would not work. He also acknowledged that each way that didn’t work got them closer to the one that did. This is replicated by Jonas Salk as he and his team of scientists worked to find a cure for one of the deadliest and most crippling diseases, polio. They tried many ways to create a vaccine, and many failed. But, had they given up, we may still have children who couldn’t walk, or permanently on a breathing machine.
Think about it, what have you failed at that led you to a great discovery or something bigger and better? What have you failed at recently? If you feel stuck in a rut, have you taken any risks that would move you out of that rut?
We’ve all either heard or been told that we should “stick to what we know” or “do what you’re good at”, but is this always the best advice? As discussed in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research from June of 2011, there is a movement in the field of positive psychology that says that we should focus on our strengths and ignore, or pay much less attention to, our weaknesses. The concept is often referred to as “strengths-based development”. This idea of focusing on what we are good at isn’t a new one, but there are some drawbacks that we need to be aware of. By ignoring the areas that we are weakest we may put ourselves in the position to make serious mistakes in those areas, or to simply never improve, which is exactly opposite of what development is about. It’s also possible to become so focused on the areas that you are strong in that you actually overdo the performance in those areas. Take for example someone who is a great communicator. Communication as a tool is an excellent component to work on and develop, but if you overuse that skill, no one will want to listen to you no matter how good the communication is. Another excellent example is the person who has drive and work ethic. These are traits that anyone would be happy to have strength in, but overdone these can come across as workaholic or overbearing, and worse can lead to things like burnout, or alienation from friends, family, and even co-workers.
So what is the answer? It’s not really an either/or dichotomy, but instead it’s a combination of the two. That means focusing on what we are good at and enjoy, and improving and strengthening those areas while challenging ourselves to grow and develop and experience things in the areas where we are weak. It means finding projects and learning opportunities that constantly take us out of our comfort zone in what we like and what we don’t, and changing our paradigm to understand that we need to develop 360 degrees. The most successful and respected people of the world have generally gained many different experiences and perspectives, and can see and speak with those perspectives which allow them to be insightful, innovative, creative, masterful, and global in the way that they act and interact.
What are you doing to strengthen what you like and are good at? How are you challenging yourself to grow and develop in new ways or in areas that you are weak? As a manager or supervisor, how are you doing the same for your people in both ways?
Kaiser, R.B. & Overfield, D.V. (2011). Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(2), 89-109. doi: 10.1037/a0024470