We all want to know where good things come from. If we know their origin, we are better able to revisit the source and get more. That’s why I was intrigued by a statement in last week’s Time magazine. It noted that Mark Twain once said good ideas begin in the muscles. He was both wrong and right.
There are good ideas and there are your best ideas. Ordering take-out might be a good idea this evening, but it’s hardly a memorable insight or decision. Your best ideas, in contrast, have a real and important impact on your life and work. And at least as far as your work is concerned, your best ideas come not from your biceps or obliques, but from your talent – your capacity for excellence.
Oddly enough, however, your talent does operate like a muscle. It enables you to push your career forward by lifting more than your fair share of the load at work. It empowers you to climb up the career ladder to ever greater heights of achievement and reward. And, it gives you the occupational strength and endurance to weather the storms that pop up occasionally in every career.
Moreover, the similarity doesn’t end there. Like a muscle, your talent will atrophy if it’s not used each and every day. A muscle oxygenates fats and carbohydrates to generate power. Your talent consumes ideas and insights to generate your best ideas. If you stretch a muscle and then give it time to rest, it will reliably perform at its peak day-in, day-out. If you express your talent each day at work and then let it recuperate afterwards, it will reliably propel your career forward toward goals that are meaningful to you.
But how exactly do you use your talent at work? In the best of circumstances, the tasks you are to perform on-the-job are the expression of your talent. That would occur, for example, if your talent is the ability to communicate complex ideas so they can be understood by everyone, and your work is to write technical manuals for new products. In such cases, your best ideas are an integral part of what you were hired to do.
In truth, of course, we all aren’t that lucky. Our job is not the application of our talent, but rather the use of a skill we’ve acquired. If that’s your situation, are you precluded from contributing your best ideas at work? Absolutely not. But to do so, you must define your job as a role larger than that specified by your employer.
You must look for ways to employ your talent by thinking and working outside the limitations of the position description. For example, if your job is to sell a service for your employer but your talent is the ability to organize diverse individuals into a high performing team, you might volunteer to lead an ad hoc group studying ways to increase productivity in the sales team. In these cases, your best ideas are an add-on to what’s required and expected of you on-the-job.
Whether it’s an integral part of or an add-on to your job, your talent is the muscle of your success … but only if you flex it each and every day.
Thanks for reading,