Matching Specialists to Specialties

Everyone has two or three fields that come naturally to them. Asking your team about their specialties may help you find ways to optimize your business.


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“Beethoven, okay, he looked at a piano and it just made sense to him. He could just play.”

This line, from one of my all-time favorite film scenes in Good Will Hunting, tells us everything we need to know about building a great team. It’s the scene where Will Hunting, an unrecognized genius with no formal advanced education, explains to his girlfriend Skylar, a student at Harvard on her way to medical school at Stanford, why he can complete her complex organic chemistry paper in less than an hour. He says that when it came to “stuff like that” he could “always just play.”

Is this phenomenon limited to the likes of the fictional genius Will Hunting, Beethoven, Mozart and Leslie Lemke (who I met many years ago)? These people could “just play.” What about the rest of us? I’m convinced that we all have two or three areas in which we can “just play.” 

Micro- and macro-economics came naturally to me while I was in business school, while many of my fellow business school students struggled. But while I would say my other strength is communication, both written and verbal, I never enjoyed learning prepositions, modifiers and indefinite relative clauses.

One of my favorite conversation starters among friends and associates is to tee up this message and then ask this question: Assuming everyone has a couple of areas where they can “just play,” what are yours?

A very successful oral surgeon referenced science and athletics. This makes sense, given the importance of scientific disciplines and fine motor skills in his line of work.

A leader of a Fortune 500 manufacturer shared that finance and mathematics were his strongest suits. That seems logical, given that he excelled to such a high degree in his chosen field.

One of the best business development people I have known referenced his ability to read other people’s emotions and build quick bonds with others. No surprise there.

Pause for a moment. Really, stop reading and think about it… What are your strengths? The answer matters. We tend to excel in the disciplines we enjoy most. We tend to enjoy disciplines at which can “just play.” Over time I have gravitated toward the parts of our business where I can “just play.” Tinkering with the economic model as it relates to our strategic success is one example. Content marketing — writing columns and whitepapers, keynoting conferences, and hosting webinars and podcasts is another. I have worked hard to move things with tedious and fine details to other members of our team better specialized in them. The more time I spend doing what I enjoy, those tasks at which I can “just play,” the more effective I am and the more our company grows. 

This phenomenon is true not just of a company’s leader but of its team members as well. Where can each of your team members “just play”? More importantly, do their roles reflect their talents?

The “just play” exercise is a great one to conduct with your team. The clip from Good Will Hunting is widely available online. Find it, tee it up and play it for your team. Afterward, give your team members ample time to consider their answers before going around the table (or the Zoom call) and asking each to share theirs. It’s almost guaranteed that a few answers will surprise you. Write them down and contemplate whether your team members’ roles match their talents.

It’s worth noting that this same exercise also makes for an incredibly enlightening interview question.

We all have a couple of areas where we can “just play.” Knowing yours, learning those of your team members and making sure everyone is in the right spot can produce marvelous results.