“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” — Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher.
“I don’t have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts. ” — Martin Ritt, American actor and film director.
While I’ve always emphasized competence, persistence, and hard work over talent, I’ll readily admit that talent does exist. We all have a few things we do well without struggling, whether because of personality, genetics, environment, education, or some unique combination of these and other factors. The talent rule holds as true in the productivity field as in any other aspect of life. Right off the bat, you may be the best multiple-project juggler in the company; a natural at focusing; a genius at tweaking workflow for maximal efficiency; or capable of turning out perfect prose under the gun and at the spur of the moment.
So, what’s your special productivity advantage? Most of us have one; we just need to find it. Have you invested the time necessary to do that yet?
The Ground Rules
I believe almost anyone willing to learn and work hard can become super-productive, given the proper guidance and tools. I also believe that once you’ve identified your productive strengths, you should focus on improving those above all else. Now, I realize this goes against tradition, with its focus on shoring up weaknesses; and I certainly don’t want you to think you should ignore those weaknesses altogether. But consider this: what makes more sense, improving a skill from excellent to fantastic, or spending the same amount of time moving from abysmal to mediocre? If you can afford the time for both, go for it. If not, focus on your strengths first.
This especially makes sense when working in a well-constructed team environment, because you’ll probably have co-workers who can overcome your shortfalls and vice versa. I know someone who’s great at reading maps, but so-so at gauging real world topography. When the boss paired him with a co-worker who couldn’t read maps as well but had an excellent sense of direction, they made a great team.
Points to Ponder
If you haven’t identified your productivity talents yet, give these points some thought.
1. What comes easiest for you? Think about a task you can accomplish successfully without much strain. Do most people struggle with this particular task? If so, you’ve found a strength you can exploit.
2. Does time fly when performing a specific task? Remember the old saying “Time flies when you’re having fun”? It also flies when you work on a task you can really get into, focus tightly on, and do well at.
3. What can you do without thinking twice? Those tasks probably represent talents, whether innate or developed.
4. Do people compliment you for doing something consistently well? If so, consider that a talent…especially if they compliment you with money.
5. Do you feel passion for a specific task? While this doesn’t necessarily translate as talent (I imagine we’ve all felt passion for things we’re terrible at), it certainly makes a difference in how much discretionary effort you put into it, and may represent a productive talent.
Once you’ve identified a potential productivity talent, test it in your workplace. You may find that no one does a better job of communicating between teams, or putting together final reports, or even lubricating the rough edges between personalities. Once you discover something that really works for you, start improving on it for your team’s benefit and your own.
While you’ve got to know your limitations (to paraphrase cinematic philosopher Harry Callahan), don’t obsess over them; work around them and improve them when you can. By the same token, don’t just try to coast on your talents. Never forget this: talent plus hard work beats lazy talent any day of the week. In most cases, hard work alone beats lazy talent, especially when coupled with determination and all-around competence. Don’t assume that just because you have a talent, you don’t have to hone it. No matter how impressive, a knife with a dull edge won’t cut nearly as well as one given a few licks with the whetstone.