The triple threat

I recently went to Sydney to watch the lion king; an impressive musical filled with excellent visual effects, costumes, an amazing orchestra. But what impressed me most were the actors.

Showbiz: the triple threat

Not long before watching the show I was introduced by a colleague to the term “triple threat” — it’s a common showbiz term that refers to an individual who is skilled at:

1) Acting
2) Singing
3) Dancing

The reason for it being called a threat is not too difficult to grasp. If an individual can be highly skilled at singing, dancing, and acting, then they are a threat to any other individual who is only skilled in one or two of those areas. Put simply, they become the preferred option. How can this be applied to business?

Several applications into business (just some random thoughts).

1) Foreign language learning

Several years ago I approached a Chinese department leader in my university. I mentioned my interest in learning Chinese. She responded:

Learning Chinese alone is not good enough. There are loads of people out there who are proficient in both English and Chinese, you’d need to add something else to it in order for your skill set to be competitive. I’d suggest Japanese or Korean as well.

Of course, she may just have been skilled in up-selling, but I think not. She had a valid point, that skill set alone was not competitive enough, it was too common.

2) Production, Leadership and Communication skills

It is skill sets in combination that form the triple threat, not in isolation.

Production: One of the major weaknesses of engineers is that although they are highly skilled in production, they are generally weak in communication skills. Hence engineers who learn great communication skills are able to compete much more strongly against those without.

Communication: it’s critically important to have communication skills in any industry, but if that’s all you have then you’re not particularly competitive. It’s like having a large vocabulary but you’ve nothing useful to say. Your language skills profit you nothing if they’re not complementing other skills.

Leadership: leadership skills may be exaggerated to be the most important of all — perhaps just due to their rarity — but again, alone, they’re not enough. Especially in highly technical fields. It’s hard to earn the respect of people like engineers or other technical staff if you’re not technically proficient. They will see through your vulnerability and question your authority.

But all three: Someone who has production capabilities (they can put their shoulder to the wheel and directly produce results) communication skills (they can coordinate effectively with those around them) and leadership skills (they can identify what is most effective and pull a team together) — that’s a triple threat, a threat to someone who only has one or two of those skills.

But what about deep specialities?

But what about a heart surgeon who specialises only in one highly specific aspect of heart surgery? What if he’s the only person in a city who has that skill?

Inasmuch as he is the only one who has that skill — he’s highly competitive. Depth in one field is also critical. Nevertheless, what if another heart surgeon comes along who is also skilled in education? He could be paid to train up an entire team of heart surgeons — who would be more competitive now?

Depth and width.

The deepest triple threat and most competitive answer lies within “the genius of AND” (A phrase coined by Jim Collins) — to be most competitive we must be both deeply skilled in several areas and very  competently skilled in many others. In fact the idea of a triple thread corresponds very nicely with “the genius of AND”.  Perhaps a colleague goes deeper in one area than you; but if they weren’t there you could complete their tasks to a very reasonable and competent level without them.

Are you a triple threat?

An easy way to answer this question is this: do you feel threatened by the skill sets of those around you?

Is your company a triple thread?

An easy way to answer that question is this: Do feel threatened by other companies around you?

Yeah… Hey. It’s a good thing to be!


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