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Want to be a more effective changemaker? Play to your strengths

   /   Jul 14th, 2010News

Kristin Ivie, social innovation program manager for the Case Foundation, recently put together a helpful list of seven tips for changemakers and idealists at Social Citizens.

There’s one suggestion, however—in tip #2—that I must disagree with: that changemakers should spend 95% of their time focusing on the 5% of things they’re not good at.

It is certainly true that when practicing a particular skill—playing guitar or piano, for example—we make the most progress when we work on areas where we are weakest. But changemaking involves a combination of many skills—planning, selling, organizing, strategizing—some of which we are bound to excel at more than others. Most of the changemakers I know who are highly effective spend the vast majority of their time doing what they do best, which is typically recruiting others and communicating.

There are so many tasks involved in causing social change, and so many different roles for people to play. It doesn’t make sense to focus on areas where we are less than great. Life is too short. And time is of the essence. What we need to do is to discover and cultivate our strengths—and compensate for our weaknesses by enlisting others who can handle them better than we can.

I’m reminded of the advice given by the management expert Peter Drucker in his classic essay “Managing Oneself” (PDF): conduct healthy self-analysis and seek feedback to discover your strengths. Then make them even stronger:

We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre… One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.

Photo: Tomek’s DS World

3 Responses

  1. Dave Peery says:

    David – as a musician and a funder of social entrepreneurs, I couldn’t agree with you more. The truth is, social entrepreneurs are already bogged down, under-resourced, and stretched enough as it is! As a musician, I MUST practice what I’m not good at, because no one can play my guitar solo for me. However, social entrepreneurs are better off being self-aware about the things they are good at, and knowing where they need help, and building the right team accordingly. One of our grantees, Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year, was feeling a bit burnt out in the beginning – taking care of things she either wasn’t good at, or didn’t enjoy. Finally someone gave her the advice to identify what those things were, and then hire someone who likes doing them. This allowed her to barrel forward and apply her entrepreneurial drive towards the things that matter, be more effective, and ultimately more happy and balanced on a personal level.

  2. David Bornstein says:

    Dave, Abby’s story is very representative, in my experience. People who hone in on what they do best, and what they enjoy most, create a virtuous cycle. Because they’re effective and happy, they give off a sense of balance and ease, and that tends to draw more good things their way. Thanks!

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