There are fans and detractors for every success strategy ever conceived. You may have heard about strength-based training in the business world; you may even know of the theory's roots in social work practice. And it's possible you've seen arguments against the effectiveness of what is at this point a decades-old theory.
Strength-based practice involves identifying a client's strengths and building on them to create a reliable foundation for dealing with conflict or reaching future goals. In social work, it ushered in a new perspective to counseling and treatment that contradicted the prevailing theory of identifying deficiencies and addressing them directly. There's enough proof--and enough anecdotal evidence in my own life--that a strength-based approach works. To those who think its time has come and gone, I'd point out that strength-based practice is, or was, a rebellion against an ineffective status quo.
Strength-based practice worked--and continues to work--for people in crisis, and because personal crisis isn't all that different from (and often precipitates) workplace crisis, it has found a similar foothold in executive coaching. Turns out, what works for those in crisis can be just as effective for folks seeking to improve their effectiveness or address deficiencies in the business world. Honing the skills you already have puts you on the right path to becoming indispensable, and by focusing on improving in one area, you learn not only what accessory skills you need to be truly excellent at what you do, but the discipline required to acquire them. Rather than becoming a jack-of-all-trades, you can become the master of one--a trait that's both practical in the short term and marketable over the course of a career. After all, you probably don't remember a ton of broadly competent but all-around average people from the pages of your high school history textbooks, do you?
I'm more a people person than I am a business strategist, but entertain me for a minute and apply the same strength-building philosophy to an entire organization. What makes sense at the individual level seems almost too obvious on a larger scale: Just like people can identify a strength and capitalize on it, organizations can achieve recognition when they identify a target market and focus first and foremost on meeting that market's needs. Just think of the trademarked products--Band-Aid, Kleenex, Xerox--that have since become the common names for whole categories of products. Try to think of online shopping without thinking of Amazon, or streaming movies without Netflix, and consider the implications behind that phenomenon. Now think of a salad. Does your mind automatically go to McDonald's? Probably not, just like your mind likely doesn't link Paul Mitchell with action sports, no matter how hard he might try to create the connection. Iconic American fast food and salon-quality hair products--those are their respective wheelhouses. Doesn't it make more sense to be the best in those areas than to try to forge an unlikely connection elsewhere?
The idea isn't to put blinders on anyone at the individual or organizational level. Just as it does in counseling and executive coaching, a strength-based approach should grant you the ability and discipline to identify critical weaknesses and add them to your training. If you have to learn a new skill in order to be better at your job, or there is a component missing from your product that is keeping you from being the best provider to your market, wisdom dictates making the change. That's the difference between diversification and distraction. Focusing on one particular product or skill set too hard can leave you wondering what happened after society has moved on to a new solution (see: Blockbuster Video), but more often it's the allure of triple-digit growth patterns or industry domination that bring about disaster (see: The Roman Empire). Distractions stretch your resources, introduce uncertainty, impede forward progress, and help you ignore core weaknesses that can eventually crack your foundation.
The lesson history seems to teach over and over again is that for both individuals and organizations, working toward an objective that matches your excellence is the most reliable and rewarding strategy for long-term success. There are exceptions to every rule, and it's true there's more than one road to personal or organizational achievement. But there's also no reason to seek exception when the path in front of you is clear.
G.K. Chesterton may have put it best when he said, "Why try to be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?" I'd ask this: If you excel at something, why not be great at it? Find your target and move toward it until you get there. Be focused and sharp instead of broad and dull. Diversify if needed, but understand the difference between diversification and distraction, and avoid the latter at all costs. We're all playing a long game here, but the ones who end up winning will have had their eyes on the prize the whole time.