In 2012 we’re a culture of specialization. Today’s lean development teams and reactive hierarchies are setup to include one person (in theory the best person) to handle each job. You can probably trace this back to the beginning of industrialization and the assembly line. Through specialization each person could get progressively better at their small part, making the company as a whole more efficient.
The whole secret to succeeding in today’s job market is making yourself useful. As a specialist, that means becoming better at your unique role. If you’re a designer, you just need to get better at design right?
What Tasks Make up Your Job?
The truth is even specialists can break down their jobs into component parts. If your daily work as a designer includes web design, art for advertisements, and company logo mockup, you need to figure out which piece you’re the best at, and also what you’re the worst at. Whichever skill you’re lacking in will be the easiest to make improvements in. Versatility is key in today’s job market, and overall you will be a more valuable asset if you’re proficient at all three forms of media, as opposed to being slightly more than proficient at one, and average at the other two.
You can even break it down further, and look at the various skills that you use on a daily basis. You may be great with gradients, but not so good with perspective. Both of these technical skills are important, but identifying your weak points will keep you from being caught with your pants down. There’s nothing like being confronted with the part of your job that you’re the worst at during the biggest project of your career.
Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Your Shortcomings
When your job description is more varied, you work as a freelancer at home, or you’re the boss of a small business, it can be hard to focus on your weak areas. You’ve probably been conditioned to focus on your assets and to sale yourself as a total package. You’re the person who answers the question “what is your greatest weakness” with “I care too much”, “I work too hard”, or “I’m so good at what I do that sometimes it is hard to be compared to me”. Being blind to your weak areas is a weakness in itself, and it could be the very thing that is keeping you from improving your overall skillset.
I’ve always been very diverse in my skillset. Even as a kid I was good at most sports, and practically every subject in school. Sometimes there were one or two kids that could do math better than me, or write better, but no one could come close when it came to a contest in General Knowledge. It made it hard for me to choose a major in college, but I am uniquely qualified to handle jobs that require a broad base skillset. Web development and promotion is a natural fit, and for most of the sites I’ve been involved in I handle everything from programming, to design, to writing, graphics, public relations, SEO, promotion, analytical research and several other jobs that are usually relegated to specialists.
Oddly enough, I have found my weaknesses to reflect my general abilities instead of specialty areas. Most of the work I produce is above average (so the added experience of specialization isn’t hurting me that much), but I’ve found that I’m inexperienced in general business, have a hard time implementing standards, replying to e-mails, and handling the day to day operations in a way that focuses on profit. I’m stubborn in the fact that I’m not willing to let a sector of my business fall behind, even if it would free up the time necessary to turn a profit. It’s obvious that I’m stretching myself too thin, but I can’t figure out how to make managing another person take less time than just doing it myself.
Small Business Doesn’t Tolerate Weakness
Facing your weaknesses is even more important as an entrepreneur. You don’t have a large workforce to source replacements from, and it hurts you to be ignorant about a part of your business, even if you have an employee to handle the role. You don’t have someone to point out your shortcomings, so you either have to figure out which areas to focus on by yourself, or let it be a perpetual burden to the growth of your business.
I came to the decision last week that I’m never going to get to where I’m wanting to go if I don’t hedge my bets and bring my skillset into parity. This means signing up for a class in public speaking and communications, reviewing all of the current procedures in place, taking a few mentors up on their offers to help me, possibly sacrificing my current plans to accommodate new ones, and most importantly, completing an honest and thorough audit of both my business and myself.
Pin-pointing Potential Areas of Improvement
To figure out what your potential weaknesses are you first need to know exactly what it is you do. Record the different roles you handle during an entire week. If you’re a senior manager or a business owner, map out the structure of your business and list all the jobs that have to be completed. Pay close attention to decisions you make that affect others (scheduling, recruitment, management, etc.), and the tangible assets that your produce (code, graphics, design, marketing plans, reports, plans, etc.).
Now, think about which areas you receive praise in, which areas provide above average return on investment, and which areas are core to your job or business. For now, ignore those areas, and make a list of every other task, product, or role you handle.
To figure out which areas you should focus on, you need a benchmark for comparison.
Try and find other companies, employees, or organizations that are known for having above average output in those areas, and research their methods. A lot of times you’ll find that you may be using outdated software, outdated methods, or your internal processes are not streamlined correctly. If it’s possible, equipment should never be a hindrance to your work. Upgrade when you can afford it, and make every process as efficient as possible. It’s important to remember that solutions that your competitors or other businesses use aren’t always the best option for yourself.
When you narrow the list down to areas that you don’t suffer a technological disadvantage in, you don’t receive a lot of praise in, and it isn’t providing an above average value for your business, you know exactly what your current weaknesses are. These areas will give you the quickest and most substantial gains if you can reconcile some level of improvement.
There’s No Day Like Today
It has never been easier to improve in a particular subject or become more efficient at a specific task. You may want to look into taking an online class, participating in some sort of professional development, researching through the vast database of information available on the Internet, or simply practicing in your free time.
It’s way more fun to concentrate on your strengths, but if you’re serious about being a better you, you need to practice on admitting when you’re wrong and figuring out what you can do better. Do you know what your areas of improvement are? What are you going to do about it?