Is it better to focus on your strengths or on your weaknesses? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jonathan Brill, startup specialist, seller, marketer, on Quora:

Forget about strengths and weaknesses; you should work on whatever is holding you back. At times, it may be that your best isn't quite good enough, but more often it's going to be because you're lacking something else completely.

Two examples come to mind: Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

Steve Jobs had been selling since he was a teenager. He was selling things that he built, and then things that he and Steve Wozniak built, and eventually he started selling computers. He was masterful at creating a story around the product to create a connection from the buyer to the future. He refined this skill and expanded upon it in later years, but his getting marginally better at this over the years is not what helped him make Apple the most valuable company in the world.

Arguably even more important than his ability to sell his vision to anybody standing in front of him was his vision of how to design technology to be used by people who weren't technologists. His products were intuitively better than competing products and easier to use. It would be inaccurate to suggest he designed all these products personally, or even conceived of them or the underlying technology, but his vision and ability to sell created the pressure that repeatedly spurred innovation.

The real step function for Jobs was learning patience, humility, sympathy, and how to manage massively complex projects built by creative, demanding teams of all-stars. All of that would have been considered a weakness in his early years, but a more pragmatic view is just to think of it as stuff he was horrible at for most of his professional career. Once he started pounding the pavement and getting brutalized by customers at NeXT and getting discreet-mentored by Ed Catmull and John Lasseter at Pixar, this started to change. Without the opportunity to learn the skills he needed but did not really have, he doesn't flip NeXT to Apple, flip Pixar to Disney, and take the gems from the wreckage that was Apple and NeXT and pop out the best line of consumer electronics the world has ever seen.

Elon Musk started two companies before starting Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City, but in the first two, Zip2 and X, he lost the top job amid employee revolts, lack of investor and board support, and generally missing deadlines and goals he set for himself. Both companies were sold and according to interviews he's given, he still regrets not being able to lead them towards a more ambitious goal than just netting a pile of cash.

While it would be inaccurate to say that SpaceX and Tesla are known for delivering on time or having an exemplary record around employee retention, they're getting big things done and have become incredibly inspirational success stories.

Musk is getting all the credit he's due for what we already knew he was good at: thinking big, driving technology further than it's gone before, and having a really cool accent, but those were all there for the first two companies. What's changed is that he gained the confidence and social skills necessary to build a team of allies and supporters around him in each company. SpaceX in particular was completely dependent on Musk's ability to recruit and retain actual rocket scientists, with whom he had no credibility, before he had outside funding or any notion of what commercial success might look like. There's no way he pulls that off a decade earlier.

If you're doing something and you want to get better at it, because that's all you're going to do for the rest of your life, by all means keep doing more of it. But if you think you'd like to take the skills you've learned so far and apply your talents to different kinds of projects and more interesting endeavors, you're going to need to shore up your gaps. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are just two examples, but I believe most good managers would tell you that there were critical skills they picked up along the way that proved invaluable when opportunities came up to run a project, a product, or just to chase whimsy.

Siloed skills are for role players. Don't be a role player.

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Published on: Nov 7, 2016