My article "What Makes You Special?" was first published on Intuit Labs.
“What makes you think you’re special?”
Have you ever been asked this rhetorical question? A question like this usually comes as a response to a request for an exception to the rules. The well-meaning intention is that fairness requires that all of us be treated the same. However, I want to make a case that you are special!
The idealized form of the world is not one where every single one of us is treated the same. In the ideal world, all of us get special treatment and that special treatment is unique to our individual special qualities and traits.
Marcus Buckingham — author of “Now Discover Your Strengths” — makes the compelling case that we find fulfillment and success in work and life when we discover our special talents and spend most of our time playing to those strengths. The best managers are ones who recognize their employees’ strengths and help customize their work assignments to these strengths — not just assigning work based on pre-defined, cookie-cutter roles. The best teams don’t consist of well-rounded members making the same contributions. They consist of unique members that contribute their individual strengths to make a well-rounded team.
Harvard Economist Ricardo Hausmann says, “modern man is useless as an individual.” When humans lived in caves, it might have been possible that all the knowledge in the world could fit inside the head of one individual. This isn’t true in the modern world where innovation requires curating the knowledge of thousands of people. Our organizations benefit from the collective knowledge and contributions of each of our special people. Recognizing what makes each individual special is part of creating a high-performing institution.
Biographer Walter Isaacson wrote about a six-year-old Steve Jobs who tearfully asked his adoptive parents why his birth parents rejected him. His parents responded: “You are special, this is why we have adopted you.”
“From then on I realized that I was not – just abandoned,” Jobs said. “I was chosen. I was special.”
Isaacson thinks this is the key to understanding Jobs and how he was driven to make a dent in the universe. Let the example of Jobs’ life inspire each of us to recognize we are special and can make our own dents in the universe.
If someone asks you, “What makes you think you’re special?” just say, “Where do I start?”