S.O.M up Versus S.W.O.T down

At school I was good at history. To make the grade of being ‘a good all rounder’ my teachers decided that I must concentrate on math - which I really was bad at - at the expense of history. The result was that I was mediocre at both!

We seem to have become a society with an obsession for fixing what’s wrong. Current practice in society and business is routed in the belief that weakness is the opposite of strength - as illness is to health, failure to success. Wrong. They are not. Each has its own pattern of behaviour and follows its own particular configuration. In which case studying weakness will not lead to us to improving strength. In the UK, for example, in researching what keeps families together, emphasis is placed on resolving the weaknesses that cause break up, rather than on developing the strengths that bond them.

The common practice of fixing weaknesses to make an individual, a family, team or company, stronger and better does NOT work. It is a practice that creates average and created on the misnomer that if you can identify all the weaknesses in an individual, team or company, you can then dissolve them by developing them into strengths. The principle, however, is very clear:

Find Out What You Are Good At And Do More Of It.
Find Out What You Are Not Good At And Don't Do It.

Just for a moment think about your greatest mistake or failure. OK got it?

Now think of your greatest success or achievement. Harder isn't it?

Why? Because our whole mindset is programmed to root out weaknesses in ourselves and in others. We have been well conditioned at school to listen critically - for what we don't agree with. Our fine-tuning is centered on the weaknesses in the argument.

I wonder how often the baby is thrown out with the metaphorical bath water when the strength of a proposal is not looked for and therefore not seen?

Take the S.W.O.T. analysis, for example, the universally applied business tool. Here Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are reviewed and considered, yet without exception, the categories of weakness will take precedent over what is considered strong. Where is the focus of attention? On Weaknesses.

SWOT analysis is really a term for Seek Weaknesses Only Test, designed to find out what people are not good at, rather than to discover what they are. The brilliant practical student is forced to improve his theoretical work; the brilliant theorist is forced to test his ideas in practical ways that may be out of date. Focusing purely on the strengths of each makes each stronger; focusing on weaknesses makes both weaker. The catalyst is not a strategist and the strategist is not a catalyst. Together they are considerably stronger than the one who is forced to be both.

The Only Way to Develop Strengths and Opportunities is to Ignore Anything Else.

Applying the Strengths, Opportunities and Merits analysis, S.O.M., will focus the attention on what is, in the end, the only element of any importance. When you identify what your strengths are and focus solely on them, your weaknesses do not count. In excelling in what you are brilliant at, your weaknesses become unimportant. Athletes ensure that they only train at what they are good at. In doing so they are remembered for what they can do, rather than what they can’t do.

I am not saying that we don't consider strengths, I am saying that our attention is more easily attracted to what ought to be corrected rather than developed.

I remember being asked by an insurance company seeking to reduce attrition, to investigate why people were leaving. My suggestion of finding out the reason why the BEST people stayed, so we could develop it further, was initially rejected as it did not fit the thinking of "normal practice". The common sense alternative was finally accepted with the results that more than satisfied the initial brief.

The fact is that all of us are mediocre at many things, are good at some, excel at fewer and have the ability to become world-class at something. This is because for every one of our natural strengths, we have countless weaknesses. Having a particular strength, however, is not the opposite of having a particular weakness. Like success and failure, or health and illness, each follows a particular pattern.

Where experiencing failure may be the stumbling block on the natural path to success, seeking improved strength through fixing weakness is very much the wrong path.

Fixing weaknesses to improve an individual or business is a fallacy. None-the-less, it is a practice that is consistently applied throughout schools and all forms of business – to find out what is weak and to ensure its removal through concentrated effort – a practice based on the misguided belief that existing strengths will continue to develop on their own; and to become the most effective you can be, spend more time on those areas holding you back.

When a company starts out it is able to concentrate on its strengths – and usually it is all it has to support it; then, once the company is established its focus of attention is more on correcting its weaknesses. When a child is very young the parents are delighted about what their offspring can do; as the child gets older the parents are concerned at what he or she cannot do. Starting school, both parents and teachers focus on discussing what a child is good at. Later, both focus on the lowest marks in a report.

The established thinking is firmly set in a frame of reference that is programmed to root out weaknesses in our selves and others. In considering your own habits for example, you will recall your bad ones more quickly than your good ones. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. Which come to mind first?

So this is what you must do. Over the next 7 days focus exclusively on what you and your business really excel at and the opportunities that present themselves. Do not even consider any weaknesses you might have or threats that are looming. At the end of that period revisit the weaknesses and threats that you were previously so conscious of and see if they are so important as they were.

You will discover that they are not important.

The point of this exercise is not to ignore weaknesses and threats. It is to change your focus of attention to what you are good at and to what you can do. And to direct your focus away from what is holding you back and wastes your time.

With our thinking rooted in improving what’s wrong, the majority of our energy is spent in that area. Every day we have a certain amount of energy: physical, emotional, mental and psychic, in ascending order of importance, our psychic energy being the most valuable.

When attention is directed to what we can’t do, rather than to what we can do, we unwittingly drain ourselves of our psychic energy. Chastising ourselves mentally for being bad at something, for example, will cause us to feel mentally perplexed, emotionally frustrated and physically tired.

Conversely, praising ourselves for excelling at something will cause us to be mentally stimulated, emotionally euphoric and physically energetic. This situation is rare because our belief is that if you point out weaknesses and fix them, then everything will be all right. Nothing could be further from the truth, even though your rationale will be shouting at you, saying: ‘But you have to know what is wrong, how else can you learn to excel?’

The truth is that trying to succeed in an area where you are weak will cause you to develop low self-esteem, a poor self-image and a limited self-ideal.

These are the elements that make up your self-concept, the most important command centre you have in your life. Is it any wonder that self-acceptance is lost, when we have been trained to focus our attention on what we must do to correct ourselves, rather than what we can do to excel?

Learning to recognize our strengths and developing the courage to channel our energy into developing them, will transform us into the leaders and achievers in our specific fields.

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