When people seek to define areas of potential improvement they often look to address weaknesses or build upon strengths. But thinking about strengths and weaknesses as independent attributes fails to recognize their inherent interdependence.
One day, while working with Reid Hoffman, I shared with him a self-evaluation of my work, my goals, and my strengths and weaknesses. When I discussed how to compensate for certain weaknesses, he told me, “Most strengths have corresponding weaknesses. If you try to manage or mitigate a given weakness, you might also eliminate the corresponding strength.” And if you try to expand upon a strength, you may also expand upon a weakness.
Reid shared a personal example about himself. He is not particularly well organized. But perhaps his day-to-day chaos partially enables his creativity. Creativity involves connecting disparate ideas. The man is a non-stop generator of ideas — perhaps the unstructured tempo of his life is a positive enabling force. How intensely organized you are and how creative you are may be two opposite sides of the same coin.
Another example from his life: His loyalty and generosity with friends is a strength. Friends are so important to him, and he to his friends, and the stellar results of his collaborations with friends are for all to see. But sometimes he gives too much and sometimes his friends take too much and it pulls him away from taking care ofhimself.
This two sided coin idea informs one of Reid’s classic strategy jujitsu moves: turn your weakness into a strength. For example, if you’re a startup and worry your lack of a track record is a liability to customers, instead of wishing it away, figure out how to turn your newness into a strength when marketing — perhaps it means you’re more agile or more personalized or more responsive.
On an individual level, if you worry that you’re not a good writer make a point to be great on camera and with video. You aren’t a fast thinker? Be known as deliberate, careful, detail-oriented. And so on. Here’s a good post on how to re-frame other limitations as potential strengths.
Bottom Line: Find the silver lining of strength in every weakness and remember that strengths and weaknesses tend to be connected — you cannot eliminate one without the other.
See my full essay 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: Lessons on Business and Life for lessons and insights from Reid.
2 comments on “Strengths and Weaknesses Are Connected”
Hi Mr. Ben,
This article is an eye-opener. I have never thought that I can overcome my weaknesses by this jujitsu approach. I have a friend, a successful entrepreneur, who told me that he feels just fine with his messy desk since it indicates that he is creative, which is true if seen from his achievements to date. That is why he lets his weakness be, especially because he happens to have a very well-organized business partner who can complement his creativity. In light of his choice, it is shown that he has practiced your knowledge by accepting his weakness as it has its corresponding strength. Hence, from now on I will be more thoughtful in dealing with my personal cons, because on the other side there are pros that can be turned into strengths. Thank you for sharing this wisdom!
One thing to be careful of here, and to me is highlighted in Hoffman’s example, is his being successful despite his unorganisation. Marshall Goldsmith writes about this in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. So, successful leaders conflate correlation of one less than desired behaviour for their success; inflicting pain and chaos on others in the process.