Artistry at Work: Depth Over Breadth
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all. –Michelangelo
Talent is merely potential, and everyone has it. Talent is everywhere – but by itself it is nothing special. It is the developed talent – the artistic skill – that sets us apart in a distinctive way. Think of talent as personal raw materials to be converted into human performance: assets to be fully capitalized upon and developed in a purposeful way to produce desired results in our work. When we fail to exploit them, we shamefully squander our most valuable resources; indeed, wasting talent dishonors our creative gift.
Transforming talent into performance is a matter of positioning and practicing. No one is a universal creative genius, and no one should try to be. But when a person knows where there is potential for creative excellence, they can unleash its power by working in an environment in which their talents will not only continually deepen but also yield the most meaningful outcomes. Poor positioning and practicing are commonplace, and only inhibit our ability to gain full command of our gifts.
Proper positioning is no more complicated than fitting talent to task, yet this simple fundamental is seldom leveraged well. We regularly find natural “thought starters” floundering in the role of a “playmaker,” and natural “taskmasters” failing in the role of “peacekeeper”.
Companies are notorious for aiding and abetting the creation of misfits. The talents and skills needed to artfully manage a team of salespeople are dramatically different from those required to actually sell, yet most companies will move a star salesperson into a management role, then scratch their heads when the once-high-flying individual not only fails to achieve desired results, but eventually disengages entirely, longing to return to the battlefield. Unfortunately, the pattern is generally self-perpetuating: “I started in the mail room, and so will you.”
It takes far more effort to improve from poor to fair than to improve from good to great. The child whose parents hire a tutor to bring up the single stubborn D among A’s and B’s will find not only little improvement in the D, but diminishing performance in the stronger subjects. The penalty of becoming well rounded is mediocrity. No one ever achieved creative excellence by focusing on what they couldn’t do, or by trying to be who they weren’t.
Business artistry does not require breadth; it requires depth – the polar opposite of the approach taken in most educational institutions and business organizations. Understanding the need to play from a base of strength is the critical difference between the accomplished artist and the also-ran.
Of course, we must often develop certain skills simply to get by, but leveraging the talents of others enables us to concentrate our energy on what we do best. In fact, the most accomplished creative business artists pull their power from only one or perhaps two key talents, parlay that talent into stellar performance, and surround themselves with those whose gifts complement their own.
Bottom line: standout creativity requires gaining command of our gift.
Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.
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