Specialization is Nature’s Strategy for Winning


Specialize to Win

You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” — Jerry Garcia

It’s a Darwin world.  If you want to survive, or thrive, in a Darwin world, you have to play to your strengths.  More than that though, you need to differentiate and specialize.  Specialize to win. Specialization is nature’s strategy for winning.  And there are multiple ways to define how you win.

In the book Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance , Marcus Buckingham writes about how nature shapes you towards your unique strengths.

Find Your Natural Advantages and Then Seek Out Unoccupied Niches
It’s nature’s way of helping you out.

Buckingham writes:

“Why did nature design you this way?  The same reason it gave you an adaptive immune system and opposable thumbs.  Because you’re more competitive this way.  Find your natural advantages, then seek out unoccupied niches where you can capitalize on these advantages, and you are more likely to thrive, whether in a group of hunter-gatherers or a team of co-workers.  Specialization: It’s nature’s strategy for winning.”

Nature Wants You to Seek Out Your Strengths and Strengthen These Strengths
Nature wants you to be your best.  It wants you to find your strengths and grow your strengths. 

Buckingham writes:

“Nature makes sure you are born different, and then, not content with this, it has designed a complex feedback and personality-molding system to ensure that you become even more different.  It wants you both to seek out your strengths and then to strengthen these strengths.”

We see this pattern in nature and we see this pattern in work.   One of the most actionable things you can do to give yourself an advantage in the workplace is to find your unique strengths and differentiate based on that.  You can then bring your special blend of strengths to whatever you do.  What doesn’t work is trying to be the same as everybody else or investing all your time improving your weaknesses instead of growing your strengths.

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Photo by gwrrty.


  1. Hey J.D.

    I’m a big fan of specialization, and I apply it by the book (or at least I try). When you choose a precise niche, which matches your natural strengths, and you work on it just a couple of years, you can get really good. Then, you have no competition.

  2. I find it ironic that when we’re younger there’s so much pressure put on us to fit in and conform, yet that’s the opposite of what we need to do to find success and happiness. Life is strange sometimes 🙂

  3. Great insights!
    Helps me to focus on my strenghts – something that is super imporatant for me right now.

  4. Hi J.D.,

    Great topic! I bought the book about three years ago to help with my genius discovery sessions. It immediately made sense to me. My experiences in school and work, however, ran counter to the book’s advice to build on your strengths. My teachers/bosses kept wanting me to shore up alleged weaknesses that did not interest me. Your average job description describes a person not found in nature.

    I’d love to see the work world re-engineer itself to follow the strengths movement. The collective energy would lift everyone up along with it!

    Thanks. Giulietta

  5. J.D.,
    I adore this post topic! So relevant! wow!
    Just thinking about the last few years so much change, experimenting with what works and what has not, and finding my strengths has been such a process. And then to actually incorporate the jewels found, with a boost of confidence is tough stuff. I think it is more ditching the resistance that has been the biggest challenge.

    I love something that I read today on a blog which encouraged us to stop wasting all of our energy in fighting mode beating up the wall, and find a path that goes around the wall. I loved that so much..

    Really that is the way it is even with social networking. If you want to talk from authentic alignment and discovery the business tactics are hard to incorporate without activating the ego. I prefer to connect more with what feels natural, and connect to my inner nature –the best is heart power. I like to keep finding my power center here. Eventually the other wrinkles work themselves out.

    I would say that by focusing on building values in my life, it is much more impacting in my life and in blessing those around me then focusing on tips, or business goals that are overly structured and wordy, even limiting. To Start Doing is always better than just soaking up all the possible ways to grow.

    I have a question for you J.D. How have you stayed true to your values while continuing to grow into the best you you can be? How do you balance what I just shared, keeping the flow from your authentic self, and yet being an author now you obviously want to make a bit of income because it is your expanded talent?

    take care,

  6. oops, I forgot to add my favorite part:
    **Nature Wants You to Seek Out Your Strengths and Strengthen These Strengths… how comforting to know that we are ultimately supported by a benevolent Universe. 😉 xx Jenn

  7. Hi JD,

    Great post. It is easy to spend time working on the things we are not so good at, which can mean we become mediocre at a lot of things rather than great at just a few. Playing to our strengths helps us to develop our skills to another level and really excel.
    I think at work, where possible, anyone you employ should have a very different skill set than you – learning to delelgate the tasks in your weaker areas is a skill in itself!

    Best wishes,

  8. @ Eduard — Nailing a narrow niche and focusing on your strength is the way to go. A colleague used the term “sprinkling” the other day to contrast with focus. I thought it was perfect. Sprinkling your results across niches won’t make the same impact as concentrated effort.

    @ Jean — Well put — our unique non-conformity holds the key to our success and happiness.

    @ Jannie — I like the fact nature is on our side, and I hear it’s always good to have Mother Nature in your corner.

    @ Alik — The beauty is your strengths are always with you. Experiences and skills may vary, but strengths are the durable part.

    @ Giulietta — Thank you. I know what you mean. I actually bought the book for several managers I worked with to help build a culture to focus on strengths. Not everybody made the shift, but the ones that did, changed their management philosophy and improved their effectiveness.

    @ Jenn — I’m a fan of going around the wall. If you need to go up against the wall, I think it’s important to decide whether to scale it, blast through it, or chip away at the stone.

    To answer you question, I keep it simple and drive from my my mission — lead a better life and make a better world. My super skill is solving problems in a scalable way (at work I write the guides that change the game.) I drive from intrinsic (internal) motivation versus external — money doesn’t motivate me. Life’s short, then you die, so I drive from who I want to be and the experiences I want to create. I’m motivated by growth, achievement, impact, innovation, and excellence. At my core, I help people be their best. One of my key tag lines is “exponential results for the Underdog.” I help anybody make the most of any situation using proven practices and super skills that get results. I see way too many people get screwed in work or life because they couldn’t see the chessboard or didn’t have the skills — I do what I can to level the playing field by sharing mad skills that truly make a difference … and I’m just warming up. The best is yet to come.

    @ Kate — So true. Some people confuse delegation with dumping. Delegation is an art and science, and I’m a fan of growing people and amplifying results through effective delegation. Growing others grows me so it’s part of the path. I think skillful delegation means finding ways for everybody to spend more time doing what they do best, or growing where it counts.

  9. JD,
    I agree with Jean..
    This week, I’ve decided to pour my most authentic self into my writing..I’ve identified my niche and I’m going with it…
    The Energy around it is electrifying, exciting…and in just this one week amazing opportunities have sprung up…
    As you point out in this article, it’s all very related. I found my place, and now the sky is the limit! I thought it would be stressful, but it’s actually been fun 🙂

  10. Thank you J.D.
    I am glad to hear that you love the path idea! 😉

    I realized after I posted the question that are situations are not exactly parallel in that your work compliments your mission, and I actually gave up my income work to align with my values and pursue authentic dreams. So, now it is my hope that I can pour all of my best energies into this as what I would love to do. In this way I was asking about how do you keep a balance, but then I realize we’re in different scenarios. I wish you could speak from this scenario in a sense because I have learned so much from you. I guess I am at the place where I am learning to trust myself more though, so its not entirely a bad thing. As I keep aligning with my values and what has worked, I do move forward more confidently!

    I do believe that when we connect to the unique path and stay the course, miracles and support does happen for each of us.

    have a great week!

  11. JD –

    A really interesting and thought provoking post. I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham and the Strengthfinder approach. I think we’re at our best when we understand and play to our natural attributes. I’m not sure about the Darwinian nature of life however. Although nature does favour those who specialize, civilization also means that we need to work with others and team to survive. When we are interdependent with others and create mutually beneficial solutions that utilize everyone’s strengths, that is when we truly thrive. A small distinction, but an important one. Thanks for another excellent post.


  12. @ Joy — Fun is the way to go and I think it’s incredibly powerful when you find a way to flow results and be in your element.

    @ Jenn — Here’s what I’ve seen … I’ve seen people succeed at trading less income for doing more of what they love. I haven’t seen people succeed at giving up their income, unless they are taken care of — food, shelter, health, etc. The success pattern I’ve seen most often is, a person starts to bring more of their values and strengths to their day job, while funding their life style and taking care of the basics. This means separating needs vs. wants, getting creative on the job to blend skills with business needs, and improving their energy and results. Meanwhile, they might test different business models for their passion and skills while they test ideas that might fund a lifstyle and make a living. In other words, the success pattern in a nutshell I’ve seen is making mindful trade-offs, balancing needs vs. wants, playing to strengths, and finding ways to spend more time doing what you love, while funding your lifestyle and making a living.

    If you haven’t seen it, check out my book on how to get more energy while flowing more meaningful results — http://GettingResults.com

    @ Phil — Thank you. I really like how Buckingham drives his points home and makes things practical. Darwin is simply “survival of the fittest” and the fittest people, teams, organizations, civilizations, have people giving their best where they have their best to give — and people find their best niches in an interdependent way. The Web is a perfect example of a collection of connected “best in niche.”

  13. Hi JD .. I absolutely agree – just sometimes the strengths are there, but there’s no-one to guide, nor does one have the ability to work out what’s what .. for some many years .. as in my case.

    Now I believe is my time .. and my abilities and strengths are being directed in the right direction ..

    Thanks for this .. it’s interesting that nature ties it together .. Hilary

  14. @ Hilary — You’re right, sometimes it takes somebody else to help unleash our best or simply just to see it. It’s like how the Wizard of Oz helped Dorothy and her gang at the end.

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