“Fall in love with some activity and do it! Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.” ~ Richard Feynman
I’ve been reading Marshall Goldsmith’s new book: The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment (Amazon Kindle link). Goldsmith is a leading executive coach and the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Mojo, and Triggers.
In his latest book, Goldsmith argues that we should figure out who we are and what really matters and then build our lives (both professionally and personally) on our findings.
According to Goldsmith “we are living an earned life when the choices, risks, and effort we make…align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcome.”
Our One-Trick Genius
One approach to figuring out who we really are and what matters to us is to determine our One-Trick Genius or OTG.
Goldsmith notes that we need to decide whether we are generalists or specialists. While he comes down in favor of specialization, he argues that there’s no right answer to this issue.
In fact, generalists often harbor a specialized talent that sets them apart and creates a “virtuous circle in which you’re doing what you were meant to do, you’re good at it, people recognize you for it, and you’re constantly improving.” That’s the essence of our one-trick genius.
Strategies for Finding Our Genius
So, how do we know what our OTG is? Goldsmith notes that the geniuses he’s known have used the following strategies to find their genius.
- Finding Our Genius Takes Time. Few people know their position on the generalist vs. specialist debate early in their careers. Even fewer know what their genius is. It’s a process that often takes a decade or two to resolve. Beginning with a base of knowledge and ability, we are steadily exposed to new people, experiences, and ideas. We add skills that work in our favor and discard those that don’t. Eventually, we narrow our pursuit to activities that engage and fulfill us.
- The Right Talent Cannot Shine in the Wrong Role. Talented people in the wrong role is talent wasted and leads to failure. We need to be in sync with the roles we take on. We assume different roles in life: partner, colleague, parent, friend, sibling, son, daughter. The behavior we display in one isn’t necessarily productive in other roles. We don’t talk with our spouse like we do with a customer or client. Being in sync with each role requires a lot from us — Are we adding value to each relationship? Do our efforts align with our abilities? Do we care about the role? When there’s alignment among the answers, we have a better chance of finding our OTG.
- A One-Trick Genius is Not a One-Trick Pony. A One-Trick Pony refers to someone who relies on a limited skill set because it’s all they’ve got. OTG is a “deeply considered choice representing what we aspire to rather than what we settle for.” Our specific talent — our one trick — doesn’t matter as much as the attempt to perfect it does.
- Your Uniqueness Can Be Your Genius. A special talent can work for you or against you. You get to decide. This was always a concern to me in my career. I felt that I was the consummate generalist; I had no special technical expertise and worked with many people who were experts. But I understood how to present information to decision-makers in ways that they could grasp the essence of important issues. I tended to be the “translator” between the technical experts and the decision-makers.
- Generalists Can Be OTGs Too. OTGs can be specialists masquerading as generalists. Goldsmith provides examples of leaders who appear to be generalists, but in drilling down, they possess unique talents that set them apart.
On a personal level, this was encouraging for me. For most of my first career — working in state and regional government agencies — I often felt like a fish out of water. I was never a subject matter expert. But I worked with urban planners, traffic engineers, economists, attorneys, environmental experts, and educators who were. My role was to frame their often complex technical issues in ways that elected officials and cabinet members could make the necessary decisions to move forward on critical issues.
My OTG was that I could reframe hard issues in ways that enabled people to move forward. I still do that in my coaching work.
Goldsmith notes that the benefit of being an OTG is that your world expands rather than constricts as you discover that your narrow expertise can be applied to a broader array of opportunities.
What’s Your OTG?
Can you identify your One-Trick Genius, your OTG? How do you apply it to add value to the various roles you encounter in your life? Do you find that knowing your OTG has expanded opportunities for you?
Email me and let me know. I want to hear what you’ve got to say. I can be reached at email@example.com.
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