Someone once said, "The greatest wastes are unused talents and untried ideas." If there is one kindness you can do for yourself, it is to take a good look at which of your talents have been dormant for too long. What ideas have you been putting off? What worthwhile projects are languishing in dark corners? The unattainable is often the untried.
Talents that aren't cultivated become corroded. The longer our talents stay concealed, the greater the chances are that they will be irretrievably lost to us and society. You may be considering starting a new venture, or expanding a current one. You may have been dreaming of writing a book, developing an iPhone app or creating a blog of the best biscotti recipes in the world. What are you waiting for?
If you need a kick in the pants to get started, follow Seth Godin, an iconic figure for all of us, and for small business, in particular. Watch the video about his latest book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? In it, Godin encourages us to make art. He defines art as what we do when we're doing our best work, work that touches others.
This applies equally if you are wearing a business suit or a smock: whether you are a manager in a large enterprise or the owner of the corner stationery store; whether you are a doctor who treats patients with empathy, or a barber who takes a snapshot of his clients' haircuts so he can remember what delights the client. Seth's book exhorts us to stand out, not stand in; that is, not settling for the easy, the comfortable, the safe. It's the only way to do our best work. Doing our best work, as the author puts it, "is available to anyone who has a vision that others don't and the guts to do something about it. Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr."
If you lack the courage to take the leap and accomplish what has been on your mind for a long time, here are some tips:
Don't doubt your talents. Some talents may be hidden because of an innate humility. We compare ourselves to others in our domain and wonder: Who am I to be playing alongside the giants? Comparisons are mental shackles that keep us imprisoned in the safety of the average. Don't hide your talents. You have a responsibility not to waste your gifts. As Benjamin Franklin said, "What's a sundial in the shade?"
Get comfortable with being wrong. Sir Ken Robinson said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come with anything original." How many times have people advised us not to fear failure? Do we take this advice? Or do we retreat in the cocoon of safety? The price we pay for playing it safe may be too high.
Stop trading on old knowledge. If we want to accomplish anything, we need to continually update what we do. An advertisement from The Boston Consulting Group reads: "There are no old roads to new directions." We become stale when we continue to do the same thing over and over. A business owner who prides himself on being "old school" may deprive himself of the opportunity to learn the art and science of engaging a modern workforce.
Give people an opportunity to blossom in their talents. Do you make an effort to see the hidden talents in those who do the work in your shop? Do you give them a place to stand and shine? Do you allow them to sign their work? One way to shine the light on people is to give them some autonomy in the way they do the work. Take full advantage of the talents everyone brings to the table and make an effort to give people projects that they can knock out of the park. See what happens.
Practice "intelligent disobedience." I have written previously about intelligent disobedience, a term that describes the opposite of blind conformity: It's about using your judgment when an established rule or policy hinders rather than helps your organization. It's about allowing front line staff—those closest to the customer—to make a decision, on the spot, to right a wrong with a customer, even if doing so goes against an established rule. Consider adopting some of the tips listed in the article so you can create a place where people have more autonomy. It will make you stand out as a courageous and remarkable leader.
Write a book. There's a saying that "everyone has a book in them." What expertise or ideas do you have that can be turned into a book to help others? Writing a book can help you sell yourself. In 5 Reasons You Should Seriously Consider Writing a Book, Michael Hyatt says, "A book is the best marketing tool you could ever have. It makes an introduction. It opens doors. It prepares the market for the other products and services you offer." If you don't know how to get started, a useful resource is Guy Kawasaki's most recent book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, which will provide you all you need to know about self-publishing and selling your book.
Go on an inspiration binge. If you need an extra nudge, carve out a few minutes daily, when you have a break, to read articles or watch videos of people who didn't waste their talents but instead put those talents to use—sometimes against all odds. Here are a few to start you off: Have a look at this powerful photo of two brave men of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club of Sierra Leone chasing for the ball in Freetown. Watch this video about a group in Paraguay who found a way to create music from what we discard as garbage. And don't miss this video of the late philosopher and author Alan Watts asking, What If Money Was No Object?
There's perhaps no greater mental prison than the one we create when we crave the approval of others, when we worry about what others might think of us if we fail. Nothing was ever accomplished in history without someone stepping up front and risking vulnerability. What have you left untried because of fears? What is the cost to you, to your organization, or your business when you let your talents rust? Take an inspiration from Marianne Williamson, who says, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"
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Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.