There are two contradictory schools of thought on developing skills. The first is to build on your strengths and forget about your weaknesses. The second is to strengthen your weaknesses until your report card is all As. Unfortunately, both schools of thought fail to nurture your inner genius.

The truth is, brilliant people often start with a lopsided skill set. They fall in love with a subject or activity for which they have a special knack, then keep adding to their skills while letting other subjects or activities slide. This creates a canceling effect: they get good at what they love, but their lack of ability in other areas limits their success. Think of the engineer without the right people skills, or the entrepreneur who can’t balance a checkbook.

The remedy for lopsided brilliance is to simply shore up your deficiencies and not try to eliminate them. You don’t need the skills of an orator to be a thought leader—just original ideas and the courage to deliver them from a podium. You don’t need the drawing skills of a Leonardo da Vinci to be a great painter—just a grasp of aesthetics and a vision for the next big thing in art history. The idea is to neutralize your weaknesses so your strengths can operate unfettered.

The concerns of a genius fall into three main areas: 1) originality (applied imagination), 2) craft (mastery of tools), and 3) efficiency (getting things done). If you’re like many creative people, you’re strong in only two of these areas. All you need to do is neutralize your weakness in the third. For example, if you’re strong in originality and craft, prioritize speed. If you’re strong in craft and efficiency, prioritize originality. If you’re strong in efficiency and originality, prioritize craft. By shoring up your weakest area, your genius is free to soar.

Next week: Spend long hours in the joy zone.
Ludic learning is the doorway to genius.

The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules.  Buy here.