I’m really not a big reader of books. Perhaps it’s my short attention span, but web articles usually work best for me. However, I’m starting to read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, a gift that I got for Christmas. I’m a really slow reader and time has been at a premium so I’m only around page 70. I’ve found myself nodding and agreeing with most of Tim Ferriss’ reasoning. A lot of it is what I was trying to get at when I started this website. However, on page 34, there was one suggestion that has had me puzzled over the last week:
Emphasize Strengths, Don’t Fix Weaknesses.
Ferriss’ explanation for this logic is this:
“My body was built to lift heavy objects and throw them… I tried swimming and looked like a drowning monkey. I tried basketball and looked like a caveman…. It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between a multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre.”
I understand what he’s trying to say. The odd thing is that he uses his physical body as an example, when he’s mostly talking about mental attitude. Is this a universal truth? I suggest it’s not.
For instance let’s say I want to become a great calligrapher (you know those people who can hand-write perfect wedding invitations and such). I give it a shot and I’m really good with most of the letters, but I have a real problem with the letter “S”. Should I just focus on taking clients who have no need for anyone to write the letter “S”? No, I should work on that weakness, so that I can be a great all around calligrapher.
Here’s another example… this time from baseball. The Boston Red Sox have a player known as David Ortiz. He’s particularly famous for hitting ball only to right field. When he steps up to the plate, the opposing team will shift the defense to right field so that they will be more likely to have a defender there to play the ball. While David Ortiz is often good enough to hit it by this defense, it will still stop him a good percentage of the time. One of David Ortiz’s weakness is that he is not a good bunter (when you attempt deaden a pitch in the infield). If he was a better bunter or if he made a conscious effort to hit it to the other side of the baseball diamond, he’d have a much greater chance at a hit (since the defense has shifted to the right). If Ortiz focused on his weakness, the defense would have to respect that aspect of his game, and the result would be more opportunities to get hits in right field.
You also see this all the time in football. The most successful teams are not one-dimensional. The team is a good running team, a good passing team, has good defense, etc.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the calligrapher trains his/her non-dominant hand. Nor am I suggesting that David Ortiz train to be faster (he’s a very big and slow player). However, I think you need to use basic judgment to figure out if improving a weakness is pay you a multiplication of results or incremental results (to borrow Mr. Ferriss words).
In personal finance, I almost always find that it’s better to improve your weaknesses rather than focus on your strengths. If you are really good at being frugal, there’s not a to be gained by being extra frugal. It’s the law of diminishing returns. However, if you are a shopaholic, some quick gains can be made to bottom line with some minimal effort. I like to say it’s low-lying fruit.
So what do you say, maximize strengths, minimize weaknesses, a little bit of both, or does it depend on the situation? Let me know in the comments.