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In our businesses and careers as in life, each of us has a unique Talent Advantage. But all too often, we fail to develop our natural talents.
Why? Call it unintended consequences. Call it â€œleast common denominator syndrome.â€ The simple truth is, many of the institutions we move through in our lives focus more on bringing everyone up to the same (average) level than they do on nurturing our exceptional talents and abilities.
And that’s a shame, because those natural talents of yours â€" those things you’re naturally good at â€" very often signal your areas of potential brilliance.
Human beings naturally gravitate toward the things they’re good at, because those are the things we tend to enjoy doing. So how, exactly, do we fail to develop the areas where we have the most potential to succeed?
In the 1940s George Reavis wrote a fable entitled The Animal School. It tells of a time when the animals of the Great Forest decided to organize a school. The school adopted an activity curriculum consisting of swimming, running, flying, and climbing. All the animals took all the subjects.
As you might expect, the ducks were excellent in swimming, but they made only passing grades in flying and all of them were very poor in running. Since they were slow in running, they had to stay after school for remedial running practice, and they had to drop swimming in order to practice running during their swimming class time. This was kept up until all the ducksâ€™ webbed feet were very sore and they were only average in swimming. But average was acceptable, so nobody worried.
The rabbits started at the top of the class in running, but did not do so well in swimming, so they had to come in early every day for special practice. The teachers were concerned about the rabbitsâ€™ high activity levels, so they were made to walk everywhere instead of running or hopping.
The squirrels were excellent in climbing and running, but when it came to flying, the teacher made them learn the standardized way of starting from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. Every day the squirrels had therapy where a flying therapist took them into the gym and made them do front-paw exercises to strengthen their muscles so they could learn to fly the right way. The squirrelsâ€™ paws hurt so much from this overexertion that some of them barely passed in climbing and running and some failed altogether.
The eagles were definitely problem students. In climbing, the eagles beat all the others to the top of the tree, but they insisted on using their own way to get there and were quite stubborn about it. The eagles said that clearly it was the goal that mattered, and that it was quite right for eagles to get to the treetop by flying. They were diagnosed has having oppositional-defiant disorder and put on a strict behavior modification plan.
The prairie dogs, badgers, groundhogs, and gophers were not allowed to dig and burrow because it was not part of the standard curriculum. They tried their best in running, climbing, swimming, and flying, but soon got frustrated and dropped out.
At the end of the year, one odd eel that could swim well â€" and also run, climb, and fly a little â€" had the highest average and was valedictorian.
Because the animals described in the story were not practicing and utilizing their natural skills, they lost their talent advantage. The story makes us laugh, because we recognize the absurdity of a duck giving up on swimming in order to learn to run, or a rabbit who tries to walk rather than hop and jump. Giving up natural skills in order to acquire other skills is clearly a silly pursuit for the animals.
Yet there are times when many of us do just that and, as a consequence, we lose sight of our Talent Advantage.
Like the ducks, we are sometimes forced to focus on what we do poorly and, in the process, we forget what we are really good at doing. Like the rabbits, we stop developing our natural skills so that we can fit in with others. Like the squirrels, we get so distracted developing acceptable facilities with acquired skills that our natural skills atrophy from disuse.
Like the eagles, we donâ€™t always understand the environments where our natural skills shine, so we appear contrary. Like the prairie dogs, our natural skills are sometimes ignored and we just give up on them.
And like the eel, weâ€™ve all probably accepted praise for average behavior a time or two.
Every one of us has talents and skills that comprise our natural gifts. When you apply and capitalize on them, you are using your Talent Advantage.
Claiming your Talent Advantage begins with consciously choosing to do more of what you do best. Give some thought to what you do well, really enjoy, and that others often compliment you on. Then look for opportunities to do those things more often!