Be a hammer

​Balance is for sissies. Balance is something you maintain. It’s something you try to keep when everything is right. When all is well. 

When you’ve made it. 

But when you’re striving, when you’re on the make, balance is the enemy. The balanced individual is one who isn’t progressing very fast. The unbalanced individual is one who has identified his unique advantage and is bending all his energy and will towards leveraging it. Rather than maintaining balance, he is careening towards a better life.

There’s a picture from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism that demonstrates what I mean.

Here’s what Greg has to say about the diagram.

“In both images the same amount of effort is exerted. In the image on the left, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is that we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimetre of progress in a million directions. In the image on the right, the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most.”

Unbalance is the way to march forward. 

Individuals like Charlie Munger and Mark Cuban have deplored the wisdom of the 1/n strategy when it comes to investing. 1/n means investing in everything in the hope that something takes off. It’s a way of mitigating risk. But, in their eyes, it’s also the approach of people who don’t know what they’re doing. Of people who can’t detect opportunity, so sow their oats everywhere.

I finished Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things recently. One of the standout ideas was Ben’s thinking on hiring. Especially the mistakes companies make in the process. One of which is that they hire for lack of weakness, rather than the presence of strength. In Ben’s mind, an executive with some rough edges is way better than a d executive who doesn’t ruffle any feathers and is liked by everyone. 

That approach could quite easily be represented by the Essentialist diagram. Just substitute ‘energy’ for ‘ability.’ 

But what if we flip it round? If it’s better for companies to hire based on strength, not lack of weakness, then it must be better for potential employees to emphasis their strength. Rather than their lack of weakness. 

Even if you’re not on the lookout for employment opportunities, in your current job, would you not be more useful if you put all your weight into leveraging your strengths? I think you would.

Look in the metaphorical mirror. Survey your past. The jobs you’ve had, the impact you’ve made, the projects you’ve been a part of. Consider what excites you and what your mind turns to when you’re unoccupied. Now ask yourself, “what is my strength?”

If the answer doesn’t come, reflect more. Find more quiet and stillness on a regular basis. Or ask your friends and colleagues. They’ll help you out. 

Now, knowing the answer, start to commit to it. Commit to competing with your strength, rather than emphasising your lack of weakness. Quit trying to be everything to everyone. 

When it comes to thinking, it’s said that if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This is the driving idea behind the mental-model approach.  By building a diverse set of mental models, you see each problem for what it actually is. Your perception of a problem is not skewed by the lack of tools you have available to interpret it. By having more mental models, you have a greater chance of finding the right one.

This is a great approach for thinking and problem solving. Not so much for building your career or skillset. If you’re a hammer, don’t claim that you can also saw wood. Be a hammer. Compete on your strengths.