Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 11 Aug 2016 10:26 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

David J. Rendall on turning weakness into strength

As some of the biggest names in business – like Sir Richard Branson – can attest, sometimes your greatest weakness can be your greatest strength. Author David J. Rendall explains why

David J. Rendall on turning weakness into strength

As some of the biggest names in business – like Sir Richard Branson – can attest, sometimes your greatest weakness can be your greatest strength. Author David J. Rendall explains why

How did Freak Factor begin?
I was always in trouble when I was a kid. I couldn't sit still, be quiet, or do what I was told. Years later, I'd be in meetings at work and I would be very conscious of how much I talked, or if I was being too loud. So I would sit still and be quiet. I had learned exactly what I thought society wanted of me. But whenever there was a presentation or a pitch, I was asked to do it. My colleagues thought I did those things very well, and so I started doing many big presentations and group talks. Then I started being invited to attend bigger speaking engagements, in front of more and more people, and I built a business around that.

One day it struck me, if I had done everything I was told as a child – to sit down and be quiet – I never would have accomplished anything. My biggest weakness turned out to be my biggest strength, and all the things I was told not to do were precisely the skills that made me successful. I wanted to know whether or not this was true for other people, and that's where the book came from.

So weaknesses are your biggest strength?
In the book there is a system. We list strengths and weaknesses and ask the reader to pick their top five in each category. Someone may pick persistence as a strength, for example, but then often say that they are stubborn as a weakness. Thing is, those are really the same thing. Persistence is sticking with something for longer than most people believe is reasonable. Stubbornness, well, it's sticking with something for longer than most people believe is reasonable. They are the same thing. Why are persistent people successful? Because the competition abandoned the idea before they could make it a success.

If you try and fix your weakness, stubbornness in this case, you also damage your persistence. You aren't getting better, you're becoming less effective by ignoring your biggest strength. People are often told to build on their strengths. But the reason many people don't do it more often is because it goes hand-in-hand with their weaknesses. They are inextricably tied together.

They are two sides of the same coin?
My parents called me 'motor-mouth' as a kid. That was a nickname designed to shame me in to shutting up. Now I am professional speaker. You'd think that someone would have been smart enough to have figured out that my ability to speak quickly and comfortably in public would be a skill.

Here's another example: I recently did this assessment with a CEO in Australia. He checked 'too critical and judgemental' as his greatest weakness. Then I asked him why he hadn't picked 'analytical and rational' on the page of strengths. He didn't see it as a particular strength, as he was the CEO and "that's what CEOs are supposed to do". Not even he realized that the thing everyone criticized about him – he being critical of others – is what made him qualified to be the head of a large company.

Once you understand the connection between strengths and weaknesses, you can start looking at doing something differently to become better – amplify what is working, and stop ignoring what makes you successful.

Is that because people see weakness first? Before strength?
A friend of mine recently told me about his son. He described him as being lazy, and not wanting enough out of life. In my experience, people who get called lazy are usually quite calm and laid back – some people just can't understand why that is (usually the people who thrive off energy). I explained that his son was probably more easily satisfied in life, versus his father who was super motivated and ambitious. Of course, what's the downside of ambition? Being a workaholic. It's not wrong that someone is a certain way, it's different.

That sounds like a convenient excuse for someone not pulling their weight at work.
The other day I was asked the following question, "what's the upside – the strength – of having no discipline". Many of us think it would be easier to get something done, to achieve success, or a certain goal, if we only had more discipline. But that's not the case. A task like working on a spreadsheet of financial data might take no discipline for some, but all the effort for someone else. Sometimes, it's just not your thing. Discipline – or lack thereof – often tells us whether or not we work in an area of strength or weakness.

I'm doing a triathlon at the moment. When many people hear this they often complement me on my discipline, for getting up super early for a run – or going to the gym five times a week. But for me, it doesn't take any discipline. I really enjoy it. In fact, one of the downsides of my travelling is that I don't get to do it enough. For some people, sitting on the sofa all day is easy. But if you asked someone training to be in a triathlon, I bet it would take a lot of discipline for him to sit in front of the TV for a week fast food.

If you do what you love, it's not working.
Yes, but the problem lies once again in how people perceive your strengths and weaknesses. What might be a fun day at the office doing what you love, could be perceived as you working harder than others, or putting in more work than someone else. If the guy next to you is getting more done than you, and accomplishing more, does that mean you need to be as disciplined as him to be on par? What we miss is that no two people are alike, or motivated by exactly the same thing. Everyone is different, with different skills, strengths and weaknesses.

What's a good real world example of this?
Well, that's what the book is for. It's full of examples of traits that people think is negative, but are actually very positive. I think dyslexia is an interesting example of this. They were doing a study of millionaires in the United Kingdom, looking to see if there was anything specific that tied many of them together. They found that 50 percent of millionaire businessmen in the UK have dyslexia. They did a similar study in the United States; 33 percent of successful entrepreneurs had dyslexia. Typically, only ten percent of the general population has dyslexia, which is obviously intriguing.

So people started to ask, what's so good about dyslexia that it helps people make millions? Of course, this is a bit of a crazy question to ask – the healthcare industry is generally obsessed with what's wrong with people, and fixing them. It doesn't look at the benefits that something like dyslexia might have.

The greatest example of this is Richard Branson. He actually credits his dyslexia for helping his business, as it forced him to run his companies very simply and to delegate. He wasn't the best at analysing numbers and figures, so he hired the best he could find to do it for him. Another example is Paul Orfalea. He started Kinkos with a US$5000 bank load, and sold it to Federal Express in 2004 for US$2.4-billion. He's gone so far as to say that everyone should have dyslexia.

According to the science behind it, the same cognitive function in the brain that cause children to do badly at reading, writing and arithmetic, actually help them later in life. It helps them see the world differently, it gives them a different point of view. When they go in to the real world – provided they haven't already been broken by the school system – they see opportunities where no one else does. School is supposed to prepare us for the real world. In fact, it prepares us for an artificial world. People with dyslexia might have the right brains for the real world, not an artificial one. Of course, many people say things like, "it's amazing what Richard Branson did despite his disability". Maybe they should start seeing dyslexia as the reason for his success.

Being different isn't always wrong.
When people go to Australia, they always comment on people driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. No one ever goes, "What a fascinating choice they have made, choosing to drive on the other side of the road. I wonder why they did that". Most people jump immediately to it being wrong. And that's a problem.