Build on your strengths, not your weaknesses

“You cannot build performance on weaknesses. You can build only on strengths.”
—Peter Drucker

If you think about what you want to improve about yourself, you’re more likely to identify things you’re not good at instead of things you are good at. (Recall your most recent New Year’s resolutions, the goals you regularly set for yourself, or your last performance review… they were probably all aimed at improving a weakness.) The underlying assumption is that the key to get better is to fix what’s bad.

But starting by improving what’s bad is the wrong way to improve overall.

If you want to get better, worry less about your strengths and focus on improving your weaknesses. For the same amount of effort, you’ll see much greater improvement.

Peter Drucker writes in The Essential Drucker:

“Waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. Concentration should be on areas of high competence and high skill. It takes far more energy and far more work to improve from incompetence to low mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. And yet most people—and equally most teachers and most organizations—try to concentrate on making an incompetent person into low mediocrity. The energy and resources—and time—should instead go into making a competent person into a star performer.”

Here’s what 50% improvement looks like across a range of skills with varying levels of competency:

For the same effort, you can improve a great deal more by starting with what you’re best at and getting better.

(The exception to this rule might be instances where the law of diminishing returns applies: as you improve, it becomes harder to improve at the same rate. This is why nobody will ever run the mile faster than 3 minutes, 39.6 seconds.)

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The Essential Drucker is a must-read. And if you’re looking for other great books, sign up to get the book recommendations email.

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