Businesses succeed by building on strengths. Those of you who read my material regularly know that I’ve said that many times before. Furthermore, monumental failures are not uncommon when businesses venture far from their strengths, especially in tough times when there is pressure to change and turn things around. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that a strength in one circumstance can easily be a weakness under a different set of conditions.
For example, the ability to develop a premium shopping environment with innovative products and relatively higher prices has been a strength for Apple stores. But, when Penney’s was adopting Apple-like ways, that very same characteristic turned out to be a weakness that distracted Penney’s from its market strength in a less upscale, more discount oriented demographic. Granted Penny’s faced challenges with its traditional demographic, but trying to import premium priced innovation more typical of Apple did not fit Penney’s at all. Thus, what was a strength for Apple merely made Penney’s weaker.
Interestingly, the way the same characteristic can be either a strength or a weakness is not just limited to companies. Strengths can also be weaknesses regarding the personality traits of people, as is explained in the September-October 2017 Harvard Business Review article “Could Your Personality Derail Your Career?” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.
The article discusses how various personality traits can be considered dark side traits. These dark side traits can be valuable for success, but may also have a career derailing downside when taken to extremes. The article features eleven personality traits for which it lists both an upside and a downside. For example, according to the article’s list, the upside of being skeptical is that you are “politically astute” and “hard to fool”, while the downside is that you can be “mistrustful” and “quarrelsome”. The upside of being imaginative is being “creative, visionary” but a downside is “being subject to wacky ideas”.
While the article focuses upon controlling the downsides to keep them from derailing you, I think it is important to remember that every trait can be either a plus or a minus, depending upon the situation. Those wacky ideas, for example, can be crucial in brainstorming sessions and for some creative advertising situations. Being mistrustful can be a useful trait for those who prepare legal contracts. So, just like business strengths and weaknesses, what is a personality strength and what is a weakness depends upon the situation. And, like for businesses, when people apply their personality traits where needed and fitting, success is far more likely.
Thus, whether it’s business or personal, the upsides and downsides are important when assessing strengths. If situational fit is lacking, what might otherwise be a stellar strength, can easily manifest itself as a severe weakness. So, pay attention to the situation’s requirements when assessing strengths. And, when making changes to business strategy, be sure to choose a strategy where strengths will fit, thus, making success far more likely.