If you focus on what you can be good at, you’ll accomplish far more than you would otherwise.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the mid-1990s, he did something counterintuitive for a company that was three months away from bankruptcy. He slashed several product lines, even if they were generating revenue. Then he drew the now-famous four-quadrant diagram that became the core of Apple’s product strategy.
Steve Jobs told his assistant Jim Oliver “We need to focus and do things we can be good at”
One of the main reasons artists who want to build an audience and entrepreneurs who want to build a business struggle is that they focus on too many things instead of the handful they can be good at. Like Steve Jobs did with the four-quadrant diagram, you need to focus on what you can be good at in order to make visible progress, build creative momentum, and stay motivated to achieve your goals.
What if You’re Not Good at Anything?
Every writer starts with zero readers and every business starts with zero customers. They all suck in the beginning. If you follow the trajectory of their work or business, you’ll see that their earlier work pales in comparison to what it is today.
Just because you’re not good at something today doesn’t mean you can’t be sometime in the future. While it is possible that you can be good at anything, it is not likely. So you need to choose something that increases the likelihood that you will be successful, also known as Product-Founder-Fit.
1. Accept that You’re Average at Almost Everything
When I started my first blog in 2009, I approached my friend Sid Savara about starting a multi-author blog. He thought it was a terrible idea because he thought my writing was average and he encouraged me to focus on interviewing people.
Even though I’ve written books with a publisher, I consider myself an average writer. The only reason I write anything worth reading is that I write a lot. And the metrics of my business speak for themselves. Far more people listen to the Unmistakable Creative podcast than read my writing.
When I interviewed my mentor Greg Hartle, he made the following distinction between probability and possibility.
You can’t ignore the idea that people who have a high level of IQ and people who are born with certain gifts that others of us a have opportunities to overcome their environment.
But that doesn’t mean they can do it. There are many people who have these talents, who have these intellectual gifts, who never do. But if you look at the difference between what is possible and what is probable, the higher your IQ and the more talented you are, the greater the probability.
Instead of trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths, turn your strengths into superpowers. The truth is that you are average at almost everything and exceptional at very few things. If you focus on the former, you won’t discover the latter.
2. Treat Your Time Like It’s Worth $1000 an Hour
It makes no sense to spend your precious time on things you are bad at. For anything, you are bad at, delegate it to someone who isn’t.
For example, we create custom illustrated album covers for each episode of Unmistakable Creative, illustrate our ebooks, and often add illustrations to our blog posts. But I can’t draw. So I delegate all of our illustrations to our design team at Delesign. What would take weeks for me, they can do in a few hours.
An easy way to do this is to put yourself on the path to a $1000-per-hour mentality. When you look at your tasks at the end of each week, break them down into three categories:
- $10.00 tasks
- $100.00 tasks
- $1000.00 tasks.
Then start delegating the $10 tasks one by one and only work on the $100 tasks. After that, work only on your $1000 tasks and delegate the $10 and $ 100-hour tasks to someone else.
If you are an author writing a book, writing is your $1000 task. Designing the book cover is your $100 task. But if you’re the designer, the book cover is your $1000 task.
Even though there are things you need to do in every business, job, or creative endeavor, there are only a handful of tasks that no one can do but you. These are tasks that make your time worth $1000 an hour.
3. Don’t Follow Best Practices or Trends. Ignore Influencers
Best practices are bullshit, both for individuals and organizations. They cause people and companies to overlook the glaringly obvious variable that throws any formula for success out the window: themselves.
They ignore the fact that outliers are bad role models for most of us, mimic their heroes and role models, and everything they create ends up being a pale imitation of their predecessors.
This usually leads to an unsustainable mimicry epidemic.
Just because some influencer or guru says everyone should do something doesn’t mean you should.
Most trends are distractions. If a best practice or trend doesn’t allow you to focus on what you can be good at, then you shouldn’t follow or adopt it. Instead, steal like an artist. Use other people’s ingredients to create your own recipes.
Only is better than the best.
4. If You Don’t Want to Do Something Five Years from Now, Stop Doing it Today
When my mentor Greg started working with me in 2013, he told me to make a list of all the things I did to make money.
- freelance writing for a search engine marketing site
- helping authors market their books
- managing social media for a pro surfer
- The Unmistakable Creative Podcast
- Writing Books
Then he said, “Do you want to be doing any of these things in five years. If not, stop doing them today.”
I stopped doing everything except writing and hosting the podcast. And over the next six months, I self-published a Wall-Street Journal Best-Seller, and our company balance went from six hundred dollars to six figures.
That doesn’t mean quit your job, tell your boss to shove your job, or get rid of a client who is your main source of income. It means that you should make a plan to eventually make those things happen.
4. Ask Yourself What You Could be Extraordinary At
There are many things we are all capable of, but very few that we were born to do.
- If you’re deaf, you might be able to become a musician, but you probably weren’t born to be one.
- If you’re bad at math, you might be able to become a decent programmer, but you probably weren’t born to be one.
- If you’re 6 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds, you might be able to play a professional sport, but you probably weren’t born to be an NBA basketball player.
In his book, “Essentialism,” Greg Mckeown asks the question, “If we could truly be excellent at only one thing, what would it be?
When people focus on too many things at once, they end up being average at dozens of things, but exceptional at none. When you focus on what you can be good at, it narrows your focus like a magnifying glass on a piece of paper in the hot sun. In other words, it increases the likelihood that you’ll burn.
5. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Being good at what you do is a prerequisite for success in any field. But it is not enough. We live in a world where standing out from a sea of noise is essential to the survival and success of any individual, organization, product, or creative endeavor. And the only way to do that is to be so good that they can’t ignore you.
First, you need to understand the difference between skill and talent. If you don’t nurture your talent by developing your skill, all the talent in the world won’t make a difference.
Second, you must commit to mastering your craft. And that is usually the work of a lifetime because the eternal master is a lifelong student. It means showing up, doing the work, and saying no to anything that doesn’t align with your essential priorities.
In a Free Market, Average is Over
“One day soon we will look back and see that we produced two nations, a fantastically successful nation, working in the technologically dynamic sectors, and everyone else. Average is over” said economist Tyler Cowen.
The more time and effort you put into things in which you are average, the less time you have for those in which you can be exceptional.
The only way to avoid this is to focus on what you can be good at. You need to be honest with yourself about your strengths, gifts, and talents. And then you need to do whatever it takes to nurture them.
That might mean giving up products or projects you’ve worked on for a long time. It might mean looking for another job that better suits your gifts and talents.
If you want to make the impossible possible, start by focusing on what you can be good at. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time, energy and effort chasing pipe dreams.