Friday, September 12, 2014

Capability mindset

I find one of the best ways to keep myself growing in opportunities and abilities is to have a capability mindset. It's not just for writers (in fact, although it applies to writing as well, I consider it just as useful in the business world).

It's not automatic. Keeping a capability mindset means actively pulling myself out of a limit mindset.

What are the benefits of being "capability-minded" instead of "limit-minded"?

First, I should probably define the terms.

What Is Capability?

Capability is not potential. It is not possibility, either. It is what you can do. It is what can be done, based on one's current assets, abilities, attitude, and desires.

Capability changes day-to-day, but one can usually get a reasonable idea of what people are capable of. It emphasizes what people can do, not what they cannot; it highlights their strengths, not their weaknesses.

For example, one coworker might be extremely efficient, but not exactly detail-oriented. The capability set of this person might be speed with a moderate level of precision.

Another coworker might be extremely precise, but not particularly fast. The capability would be an extreme level of precision.

Today, I might be feeling tired. My capability is that I'll be able to go to work, with a little energy left over to put towards one or two small extra things, such as either writing or cleaning.

What Are Limits?

Limits tend to be the default mindset. It's what we cannot do. This is easy, because our minds tend to try to define people by what their limits are.

The first coworker's limits might "not particularly precise, but fast." This person has a higher than average number of errors, but works fast.

The second worker's limits are that he's slow, but does a thorough job.

I'm tired, so I can't do much after work on this particular day. I'll only be able to do one extra task, such as cleaning or writing.

What's the Difference?

The reason to be capability-minded is that it puts a person's strengths before his or her weaknesses.

However, we rely on strengths to accomplish our tasks. Focusing on limits invites comparisons--coworker #2 might say, "I'm not as fast as #1." Then coworker #2 tries to increase speed, but begins to make more mistakes, because he is trying to remove his limits without acknowledging his strengths. Although he wants to keep his precision high, he has prioritized speed.

If he were capability-minded, thought, he might say "I'm really precise. I would like improve my speed, too, but it's my precision that my coworkers rely on." Coworker #2 then begins working on getting faster, but this time, because he focused on what his strength was first, he takes care to maintain his precision and perhaps even manages to improve it.

If I'm feeling tired, and focusing on how tired I am, I might husband my resources and pull some of the attention I should be able to put into work elsewhere. I also get more tired because I'm thinking of my tiredness. I go home, do the shopping, and then crash on the couch.

By focusing on the energy I do have, I know I can put full attention at work. Then, afterward, I have enough energy for something small, like shopping. After that, I re-evaluate. Perhaps I have enough energy left over to go on a walk and get some exercise. Perhaps I don't, and still fall asleep on the couch.

The Advantage

It's a form of positive thinking, one that rewards productivity. It also makes opens my mind to possibilities. If a project comes in, I evaluate it: how important is speed? How important is efficiency? How do I maximize both?

Say speed is the only thing that's important. I get Coworker #1 to do it for me. The rate of error is within acceptable bounds, because otherwise Coworker #1 wouldn't have been hired; therefore, the product is what I want.

But say high-quality is most important. I get Coworker #2 to do it for me. I carve out the time and ensure there's enough for Coworker #2 to get the job done. This may mean I hand off a couple of items to #1, if need be.

Say it needs to be done fast but clean. Who do I get to do it?

I might have Coworker #1 do a first job, and then ask Coworker #2 to skim through and check grammar and formatting, taking no more than 10 minutes. Or, I might as #2 to craft the introduction, #1 to do the rest, and #2 to edit at the end.

Thinking about their capabilities--what each does well--makes me want to take advantage of them. It seems simple, but if I were thinking of their limits, I'd probably have handed the document to #1 and just hoped for the best.

Thinking about what people can do encourages me to think creatively, and makes me more likely to problem solve. When I think about limits, I confine myself by accident. And that's why I work with a capability mindset: because I find I do more when I focus on what's available, instead of what's not.

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