I’m not a fan of the idea of only working on your strengths and ignoring your weaknesses. It’s too one-dimensional and leads to ‘more of the same’. This idea of only working on your strengths surely leads to continuous improvement no doubt but not dramatic change. Only by working on your strengths ‘continuously’ and turning your weaknesses into strengths can you have superior capability.
On Saturday night I was watching UFC 124 and watched Georges St. Pierre dominate his opponent by basically doing nothing. His opponent, Koscheck, had to much respect for him that he decided to be tentative and never showed any intent in fighting. And thus made all of us watch a boring fight.
Why didn’t a guy that was aggressive pre-fight, look like a punching bag at fight time?
Because Georges St. Pierre is a superior all-around-fighter, and made Koscheck’s game plan irrelevant. GPS is versatile and can adapt to any fighting style on the fly. This is what makes him so good. He has no obvious weaknesses. The guy is a strategist.
What GSP does, is work on his weaknesses and turns them into strengths. This has lead to a dramatic change in his fight style and more importantly how his opponents perceive him. His opponents come prepared with a strategy to defeat him, but GSP adapts to it. This leaves his opponents in limbo as their game plan is now made irrelevant by a fighter who shows no weakness.
What does this have to do with innovation?
Working on improving/eliminating your weaknesses leads to dramatic change. It’s like renewal. A few weeks ago Ralph Ohr wrote a great post on how there are basically two ways that organizations compete in a market:
- meet existing needs and expectations that customers are aware of,
- anticipate needs that customers are not (yet) aware of (perception).
The first is short term focused and relies on an organization exploiting it’s known strengths. The second, relies on going beyond the known. Sometimes even relinquishing some of it’s strengths and turning their weaknesses into strengths. The majority of organizations focus on meeting existing needs (known by analysis) but not on anticipating needs. This logic is pervasive. It’s what you’re taught in school to do. Anticipating needs (imagination+insight), which was taken away in school, is done by very few.
As Ralph noted in his post: Successful companies of the future will most likely be able to combine both capabilities.
Basically, most organizations are good at exploiting existing capabilities but not good at creating new ones. Among other things, it’s this lack of imagination that is the weakness of most organizations.
Do you see the connection?
Last week I wrote that in the world of innovation there should be a balance between innovation and continuous improvement. You have ‘projects’ that are intended to improve your product or service, but also have ‘projects’ that are beyond your known domain that are meant to either stretch your existing capabilities or acquire new ones. This is the way to go! By only improving your strengths you’ve already setup your tombstone.
To be built to last is to be built to change, and that only happens by continuously improving what you’re good at and relentlessly working on turning your weaknesses into strengths. Your strengths might save you in the short term, but your next source of advantage most likely will come from turning your weaknesses into strengths. And thus, will keep you relevant in the long term.