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How to Play to Your Strengths

Published 7/29/2015

Strengths and skills are two different things, but when should you learn a new skill or improve a current skill? During today's episode, I'll talk about what strengths can help you recognize which skills to become a master at, how your current resources can help, and the importance of investing time in relationships.

Additional Reading Mentioned: Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

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Special thanks to Today's sponsor: Code School

Code School is an online learning destination for existing and aspiring developers that teaches through entertaining content. Visit www.CodeSchool.com/developertea for more information and start playing courses now.

Thanks for listening and until next time,

Enjoy your Tea

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I'm going to be talking about playing to your strengths. Today's episode is brought to you by Spec FM. Spec is the podcast network and content network. I teamed up with design details to start. We are looking to add shows in the near future, but check it out, Spec.fm. Design details is on there. Of course, their website is designdetails.fm. I recently read a review of Developer Teathat said that I am a little bit patronizing and after over 100 episodes, I can see why you would think that, but I'm going to be honest with you. Today I'm not going to be patronizing at all. In fact, the first point I want to make today is that each and every person who listens to this podcast is absolutely terrible at something. You need to go ahead and accept that reality. You are absolutely terrible at something. Hopefully this doesn't come as a surprise to any of you. I hope I'm not breaking anyone's hearts. You are terrible at something and that is a good thing. In fact, we all need weaknesses because the reality is everything that we're good at, we are only relatively better than someone else. You need other people to have weaknesses and you yourself need to have weaknesses in order for anyone to excel. The reason for that is because we all have the same amount of time in every single day that we live. Everyone has 24 hours and something seconds each and every day to spend making yourself better, making yourself better at a craft, learning something. You are terrible at something. My question for you today is should you become okay at some things or should you become excellent at a few things or perhaps should you become world class at one thing? How many world class athletes do you know that are also world class physicists? You see throughout history there are very few people who we consider jack of all trades and they are also experts at all of those trades. Perhaps the closest that I can think of is Da Vinci but you can see the connection between all of Da Vinci's different skill sets. That is something we need to take to heart. This idea that we are all going to be terrible at something for the rest of our lives. We don't think about all of the experts, all the things that they were horrible at. Why is it that we don't think about all of the things that they were horrible at? Because they were so fantastic at one or two things that it didn't even matter how bad they were at something else. Their contribution to society was entirely wrapped up in the things that they were experts at. So if you take nothing else away from today's episode, know that you are always going to be terrible at some things and that's okay. In fact, it's empowering because every moment you don't spend trying to make yourself a little less terrible at something, you can spend making yourself that much better at the things that you're already good at, the things that you would consider your strengths. Now, there are skills that everyone needs to acquire regardless of their job, regardless of their strengths. Everyone, for example, in my opinion, needs to know how to deal with resources, personal finance, whatever you want to call that. But they need to know how to conduct their lives in responsible ways. That's a base level skill set. So you aren't wasting your time by balancing your checkbook, for example. You also aren't wasting time when you manage relationships and when you invest in people. Pretty much everything you do in life has something to do with another human. It's important to invest in those relationships because they are important on your path through life. Now, you may be asking yourself, well, when do I actually acquire new skills? When should I work on something that I want to learn? But I am currently terrible at. And that's a very hard question and the answer isn't the same for everyone. But I am going to give you a little bit of a framework for thinking about that question right after this quick sponsor break. Thanks so much to today's sponsor Code School. Code School is an online learning destination for existing and aspiring Developer That teaches through entertaining content. By pairing immersive video lessons with in-browser challenges, Code School has become the best place to learn new technologies from the comfort of your browser. Each course features a unique theme and storyline. So you feel like you're playing a game rather than sitting in a classroom. Whether you've been programming for decades or you've only just begun, Code School offers something new for everyone. Choose your learning experience from Code School's five main paths. JavaScript, Ruby, Git, HTML and CSS or iOS. Or you can take advantage of Code School's growing number of elective courses like Try R and Chrome Dev Tools. Take your learning on the go directly from your iPhone or iPad with our free iOS app. More than a million people around the world use Code School to improve their development skills and learn by doing. Join them by visiting codeschool.com slash Developer Tea for more information and start playing courses now. So we've been talking about strengths and weaknesses and how important it is to focus on your strengths a little bit more than you focus on your weaknesses. And the idea of mastery often being found only in those who focus on one or two or three things. So I want to give you a little bit of a framework for thinking about this idea. When you are trying to decide if you want to, for example, learn a new programming language or perhaps you are wanting to fix what you consider to be a flaw in yourself, there are a lot of different reasons why you would want to bring something that you feel like you are inadequate, bring that up to a mediocre level or better. We often think particularly because a lot of us go through school, we often think that we should bring our bad grades up and that there is some kind of ceiling on how good we can be that the A grade, the 100 is as good as it gets. But the reality is most experts don't think this way. Most experts focus on those 100s and they try to get the bonus points preferably speaking. So at the expense of killing this metaphor, I'm going to try to give you a little bit of an idea about how to think about this problem for yourself. So the first thing you need to do is start by asking yourself these questions. Number one, how does improving this particular skill or fixing this particular flaw actually benefit me? How does improving this skill or fixing this flaw benefit me? The second question that you might ask yourself is how does improving this particular skill or fixing this particular flaw benefit the people around me? Now you might see these both kind of inextricably connected because quite often when we benefit the people around us, our relationships with those people will benefit as well. But I like to keep them separate because very often it makes things a little bit easier to parse through in my mind. So I've already mentioned that it's incredibly important to focus on your strengths as much as possible and try to ignore the weaknesses that you have because a lot of the time they end up becoming distractions and they keep you from working on making your strengths even stronger. I think it's important for us all to realize that strengths and skills are two different things. So when should you learn a new skill? Well, of course, you can say that you're quite bad at a particular programming language that you've never worked with, especially if it uses a different paradigm from all the languages that you currently know. So you're quite bad at them. Does that mean under this idea of working on our strengths that you shouldn't learn that programming language? Not at all. And so when should you learn new programming languages? When should you learn new skill sets? When should you learn something that you currently are quite weak at? I'm going to give you three situations that you should consider learning new skills if they fall into these three situations. Of course, there are more than three, as always, this isn't a comprehensive list, but it is intended to get your brain kind of spinning on this idea. So number one is when that skill set plays to your natural strengths. Now, what are your natural strengths? Well, that's a bigger conversation that goes outside of the scope of this podcast. But I'm going to give you guys a link to a book called Now Discover Your Strengths. It's by a guy named Marcus Buckingham. He wrote a book about strengths that's incredibly powerful and quite popular. It's something that you should check out. And basically, his idea is that we show our strengths when we are put under stress. And so the things that we naturally default to doing when we are put under stress, those are the things that are kind of in our nature. Those are the things that are built in as strengths. And it's the way we respond to life in general. So when it plays to your natural strengths, that is a time when you should consider adopting that new skill, adopting something that you are currently quite bad at. Number two is very similar to number one, when it enhances your existing skill set. So I've talked about this on a previous episode. It was quite similar to this episode of when should you adopt a new technology. But when you find that a particular skill set makes another skill set even more valuable, that's when you should consider quite strongly adopting that skill set. So an example of this is if you already know HTML and CSS, then choosing to learn JavaScript is a logically strong idea because it enhances your HTML and CSS knowledge more than another programming language would as a little tip for those of you on the path of learning a new language. If you already know another language, try googling, whatever the new language is for that language. So for example, let's say you already know Ruby and you want to learn Swift, try googling Swift for Rubyists. This will bring up articles that use common language that you kind of already understand and bring you into the Swift programming language world. Tutorial articles that compare common languages are definitely a popular style of tutorials. So go and check it out if you're trying to learn a new programming language. I recommend checking out articles that compare the new language to a language you already know. So a final situation that I would recommend learning a new skill set in is when it puts you in an uncomfortable position that forces you to realize your own weaknesses. Now you all know that I'm a big fan of Kent Beck. At RailsConf, Kent talked about how he tried ballet for the first time in the past couple of years. Now of course, this isn't going to help Kent's knowledge about programming necessarily, but what it does do is it makes Kent Beck a beginner again. And for people who are well into their careers, especially this idea of making you a beginner again is actually a new perspective that you gain. It helps provide a brand new perspective, brand new context to what has already become kind of mundane for you or perhaps it's become routine. You already know exactly what you're going to face on a given day. And so putting yourself in that kind of position where you're uncomfortable and where you're forced to realize your own weakness, where you're forced to realize that you are a beginner again. This gives you a dynamic situation to deal with and your brain has to re-plastise. It has to be willing to change again in order to get better at ballet or whatever it is that you choose to put yourself in the uncomfortable position of learning. This also helps remind you what it feels like to be a beginner. So if you're well into your career and you're leading other beginners, it helps for you to understand what they are going through. So put yourself in the position of a beginner and it gives you the opportunity to have empathy and to reconnect with the experience of being a beginner yourself. For those of you who consider yourselves lifelong learners, when you become a master, you're learning rate slows down, of course, because the things that you are learning are limited and you are actually more in the practicing phase and the performance phase of that mastery process. So putting yourself in the position of being a beginner forces your brain back into learning mode, it forces you back into processing that information and adapting. And these things are absolutely essential for learning. Now, am I saying that Kent choosing to try out ballet makes him a better programmer? I have no idea. I honestly don't know. Kent thinks that it makes him a better person. It makes him happier at work. And I think doing similar things, making yourself a beginner again is important to being happy and to being able to connect and have a dynamic experience with your learning process. But the goal of becoming a beginner again should never be to fix a weakness. Instead, it is to put yourself in the position of a beginner, re-experience those emotions and give yourself context for what it means to be a beginner. Kent said, if I can learn Haskell, then surely I can fix this particular bug that I'm working on in a language that I already know. So for Kent and for a lot of other people, becoming a beginner again helps boost your confidence. It helps you realize that you can do hard things again and again and again. Now, there's one final note that I want to make before we close out today's episode. And that is that you should always be aware of fatal flaws. You should always be aware of fatal flaws. Now, what is a fatal flaw? This is something that makes your mastery completely irrelevant to return to our previous example. If you don't know how to handle money, then it's possible that you will go in debt. And if you go in debt and you can't pay all of your debts off, then it's possible that you'll go to jail. And a lot of the things that you otherwise would have been able to do now, you can no longer do. Another example of a fatal flaw is a chronic sense of overconfidence that leads you to overestimate your abilities, which could cause tension and may even cause you to be fired by your employer. Of course, it's also true for freelancers. If you do the same thing with a client, your client will end up not trusting you because you say you can deliver one thing and then you deliver something entirely different. I recently published an episode of Developer Teaon cognitive biases. You should check that out. Cognitive biases can also be a fatal flaw. Obviously, I can't list all the fatal flaws here, but just remember that fatal flaws are the things that make your strengths irrelevant. So keep an eye out for these things in your life. A lot of the time, these are life skills and behavioral problems that cause people to fail at a larger level. So keep an eye out for those in your life. Obviously, those are the types of weaknesses that you can't afford to ignore. But it's important to note that a lot of people think that every weakness is a potential fatal flaw and that just simply is not true. So remember, you are awful at something today and that's a good thing. You should be awful at many things and you should be great at only a few things. Now, since I've already mentioned reviews on this episode, I'd love to have your review of Developer Tea. You can leave that in iTunes. The link will be in the show notes. That helps me actually quite a bit because a lot of other people want to know about this show before they start listening to it and they will listen to you. They will listen to the people who review this show. And so if you are enjoying it or if you aren't, if you think that nobody should be listening to this, I want to hear from you in the comments on iTunes. Go and check it out. The link will be in the show notes. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I appreciate your time and I hope that you have gained a lot of value out of today's episode and I hope you will continue to listen to this podcast. Of course, if you haven't subscribed, you can do so in any podcasting app that you use. Thanks again to today's sponsor code school. I know you guys know the importance of learning. That's why you're listening to this podcast and code school is a great place to learn. Make sure you go to code school.com slash Developer Tea. That link is in the show notes along with all of the other links for today's episode. Thank you again for listening to Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea.