Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Make your strengths extraordinary rather than making your weaknesses adequate"

I recently heard this quote in the context of leadership development.  It is the mantra of StrengthsQuest, an asset-based personality test.  As a two time veteran of the test and the training program, I appreciate the sentiment.  And I've largely followed that advice in my own life.  I fine tune what I'm already good at, and ignore the parts of me that I have deemed hopeless.

But hearing the strengths leadership methodology stated so simply made me think.  Have we killed the Renaissance Man?  Is the world so specialized now that there is no value in being decently good at everything?

I've been told to be a T person.  Choose one thing to excel in and stay shallow in other skills.  It is the hallmark of the marketable college grad and the individualized American.

What do you think?  Is the focus on strengths to the exclusion of areas of development destroying the well-rounded person?  Comment below and share your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. You ask many difficult questions. I shall focus on the joint questions: "Have we killed the Renaissance Man? Is the world so specialized now that there is no value in being decently good at everything?"
    Yes. Look at how history developed. The 1940s and 1950s were the last period where a large number of people achieved success in several different fields. That stopped because fields became specialized. If you want to excel in a focused area, you have to have an in-depth knowledge of specifics that only comes through submersion. We have killed the Renaissance man because we value a person of quality in one area more than multiple areas. The notable exception that comes to mind is Hollywood: If you can act, make a song album. If you are an athlete, you can coach or do commentary. Other fields are too diversified and specific to adjust to. Biology used to be a “single” field. Now we have agricultural, paleontology, virology, veterinary studies, medicine. That's still not enough. Medicine has specific doctors for nearly every part of the body. “Foot doctor.” “Knee doctor” “Heart doctor.” We have doctors for each age bracket: pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics.
    We have killed the Renaissance man because we need too much from one person for anyone to split focus.
    No. While the Renaissance man is not as common, he is alive, but not as much in America or the West. Developing nations now have people of multiple talents that can create a sanitation system one year and solve orphanage shortage the next. These developing countries have gaps in infracture, knowledge, society, and economics that are rapidly being filled by educated, industrious individuals. Why not in the West? Perhaps we will return to multi-knowledge in the future, but currently too much is expected of one person in one field for non-relevant knowledge to fit.
    Do you know anyone good at business, someone that knows economics, marketing, and has the people skills to sell his ideas?
    How about a scientist that can create a hypothesis, do a study, prove their prediction, confirm their results, and publish? In biology (plants, animals, viruses, bacteria, ecology, or medicine)? Chemistry (food, metal, plastic, organic, or medicinal)? Physics (astro, molecular, atomic, or quantum)?
    Do you know someone that knows current political hotspots and can predict how certain decisions will affect different countries? Can that person explain the history of the region, the religion, why certain things matter?
    Conclusion: Our world has too much information for one person to have an educated, informed grasp on everything. In the 1400-1700s to read two or three books on a topic was to read everything that existed. Today, you can read a thousand books on just the theory of relativity. The loss of the Renaissance man is felt because there is no translation of knowledge into other fields. No longer does a mathematician solve a chemistry problem, a mechanic repair the marketing strategy of a Fortune 500 company. Is that a loss? Yes. Did we kill the Renaissance man? Almost. Will he come back? We'll see.