What Gives You the Edge?
Published: Jan 22, 2009
So, what sets us apart? As one scientist puts it, what gives us our "humaniqueness?" What put us at the top of the evolutionary ladder?
The differentiator, it turns out, is our ability to use our intelligence in different ways. We can use sticks to hoe a garden, to light a fire, to erect a house or even to fashion a pencil and write a sonnet. Chimpanzees can’t. We can communicate with our body language but also with our vocal cords. Bees can’t. And, we can teach our young the mores of society, but we can also teach them how to think for themselves. Birds can’t.
Animal knowledge, in short, is fixed. Our intelligence, on the other hand, is flexible. We can do with it as we will. We can tailor what we know to a diverse range of situations and scenarios. We can adapt and apply our knowledge to achieve alternative outcomes or even to acquire additional knowledge. We are multi-dimensional creatures—or at least, we have the potential to be—and it’s that diversity in the way we use our know-how that defines our “humaniqueness.”
But, there’s a problem. We have this inherent capacity for flexibility, and all too often, we ignore it in our careers. Consciously or unconsciously, we limit the application of our knowledge to a single milieu. We become expert in sales or finance or IT or customer service, and we squeeze our use of that expertise into an artificial box called a job description. Our talent in those fields almost always extends far beyond what we are asked to do, yet we let ourselves be held back by that truncated definition of our capability. And when that happens, we give up our “humaniqueness,” at least in the workplace.
Why do we let that happen? Why don’t we make better, broader, more unconstrained use of our talent on-the job?
While all of these situations clearly exist in the workplace, they are not the principal reason we abandon our “humaniqueness” on-the-job. In my view, the number one reason most of us don’t work beyond our job description is because we don’t realize that we can (or should). So, here’s my modest proposal for 2009. Be the multi-dimensional person you have the capacity to be. Throw off the shackles of your employer’s job description and contribute your special talent as broadly as you can.
Adopting that course of action will empower you to realize your best self on-the-job. It will take you beyond the organization’s definition of your talent to one you create on your own. And, that level of performance provides you with two very important benefits:
As you look ahead, remember your “humaniqueness.” It’s what gives you an edge, on the evolutionary ladder and on the organization chart.
Thanks for reading,