Always be a Hammer

Updated: Jun 23, 2019

“Geniuses have very limited toolsets — they have a hammer, and their genius is in looking for nails.”

This quote is from a man named Adam Robinson. I only first heard of him on the Tim Ferris Show podcast and I am sure glad that I decided to tune in. Adam has quite the resume including chess guru, artificial intelligence expert and financial specialist. To say this man has experienced success in everything he has done professionally is an understatement.

Within the entire 2-hour podcast, this quote stood out to among the rest. When discussing how people stand out in a crowded business world, Adam brought this up. At first glance, you might be tempted to think the opposite. Surely, geniuses have multiple abilities and skills that allow them adapt to every situation. You can’t just have one skill set…that’s what assembly lines are for!

However, if you think about it, you would be much more valuable if you were a master at one skill and apply that to multiple arenas rather than being above average in numerous skills but have yet to master any of them.

I believe it was Bruce Lee who stated “I do not fear the man who has practiced 10,000 different kicks one time. I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” or something of that nature.

In business, we all have unique skill sets. The truly successful people aren’t the ones who try to be great at everything. Instead, they recognize what sets them apart from the herd and learn to apply that skill in a variety of ways.

Personal example time. When teaching undergraduate classes, I knew I did not do particularly well at giving speeches or lectures that were already written out. I would try to follow the recommended guidelines I had and every lecture seemed to come off as awkward and rigid.

Honestly, any literate person can read off power point slides to a classroom full of students.

Nobody was benefiting from my past experiences and individual skills that I possessed to land me the job in the first place. I possessed a hammer and the higher-ups wanted me to try an use screws. Wrong combination.

After recognizing this a few weeks into the semester (thankfully for the students, I realized this sooner rather than later), I decided to completely change the way I taught. Instead of power point slides, I had a notecard of topics, a marker and blank whiteboard. Instead of reading off notes to students, I would give a topic for the day and students would get involved in a Q&A. We would walk through examples together and have everyone involved with feedback going back and forth.

This change of teaching fully enhanced everyone’s experience in my classes including my own. Am I the greatest teacher that Indiana University has ever seen? Far from it. Was I a more effective teacher after realizing what I brought to the table? No doubt about it.

This post is not about being against trying to improve on your weaknesses. Rather, I encourage you to do 2 things. First, figure out what your tool is. Great at public speaking? Awesome. Can you write out forms and contracts like nobody’s business? Perfect. Building meaningful relationships your thing? Check. Whatever your skill-set is, recognition is key. Take your time with this step because you might be surprised what you possess. Having dreaded speech class in school, I would have never thought about teaching until my mentor encouraged me. It was only after recognizing that I preferred unstructured conversation that I felt much more comfortable in front of students.

Once you recognize your skill, the logical second step is to look to apply your skill-set to all areas of your life. For me, my back and forth teaching style can be directly applied to trying to learn completely new topics. Instead of reading a rigid how-to book, I like to speak to someone that has knowledge of that subject, ask great questions, and have a dialogue. Learning goes by much smoother for me with this approach.

Get creative when looking to infuse your skill-set into other areas of your life. We all have the capacity to be a genius in something. We just have to constantly look for nails.


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