“What is your unique ability?” It’s an executive coaching question that gets asked a lot. Questions like these are valuable because few of us take the time to ask and answer that question ourselves and leverage the answer. Instead, we think about people such as Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein and Leonardo De Vinci and get discouraged. These individuals had such a unique ability that the rest of us mere humans pale in comparison. Focusing, committing and taking the time to develop a specific talent, takes time and real commitment.
Take Kobe Bryant (gone too soon). Early and at a pivotal moment in his career he was having a very bad night (4 for 14 from the floor and 0 for 6 from three-point range). Then during the critical closing minutes, he launched four airballs! At the end of the game several reporters questioned his unconscionable shooting during a must-have game. His response was classic. “I had some good looks,” he said. “I just didn’t hit the shots.” That was it. He said it without a hint of regret or self-doubt. What he was saying, in effect, was he had to get through this in order to write a life worth living, a life he was committed to.
I love that quote. I wish I had that conviction in myself years ago when I was a young man. I didn’t, nor did I think I was unique in any of my abilities.
Which leads to the bigger question. Do most of us really have a talent so specific that it’s capable of being developed to greatness? I don’t know about you, but I feel I’m pretty good at a few things but nothing specific like what some of the greats I’ve mentioned above have or had.
Recently I came across a new concept that I think fits most us and may help you think beyond your “unique ability”. It’s called Talent Stack.
Talent Stack is a concept coined by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic. It’s the idea that you can combine normal skills until you have the right kind or combination to move beyond ordinary, and toward extraordinary.
In his own words, Scott suggests he is not the best artist — there are better artists than him. He’s not much of a business expert — there are more savvy experts. He has never taken a college-level writing class. Yet, he created Dilbert, a famous comic strip that appears in 65 countries. Scott is said to have a net worth of $75 million.
As he says, “When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value.”
The idea is that instead of becoming world-class in one skill, talent can come from having a unique stack of skills that no one else has. You can utilize different skills to create value in a way no one else can, thus becoming one-of-a-kind in your own league regardless of whether there is commercial value (like Scott Adams!).
So, I leave you with this: Give some thought to your individual Talent Stack. Ask others what they think? Write them down and see how they can work together to provide you with a more fulfilling personal and/or work life. You decide whether it needs to or should lead to better economics for you, or perhaps its greater personal impact on others or just a more fulfilling and productive life.