When to delegate: apples and bananas

I’m a big fan of Tim “4-hour” Ferriss.  Perhaps one of the most interesting hacks in his “4-hour”series is to do what you are good at, and what you enjoy, and (spoiler alert!) outsource the rest. Okay, perhaps I’m not doing “4-hour” justice.  Let me explain:
David Ricardo

David Ricardo, economist extraordinaire, taught the theory of comparative advantage.  This theory predicts that countries should focus on making what they are good at making and import everything else.  If my country has the right climate to grow bananas, but not apples, and your country has the right climate to grow apples but not bananas, then I grow bananas and you grow apples.  I sell you my extra bananas, and you sell me your extra apples.  Together we both have the highest possible number, and largest variety, of fruit.

Bananas (Wikimedia Commons)

Now suppose I want to compete in the market for apples, and you want to compete in bananas.  I destroy my banana groves and then build giant indoor apple groves that don’t get excessive water or sunlight. I set up air conditioning to compensate for my tropical climate.  You destroy your apple groves, and replace them with giant greenhouses. You dig irrigation ditches.  It should be pretty obvious that these massive shovel-ready public works projects, no matter now many jobs they might create, will actually reduce the overall abundance of fruit.

Simple as this may seem, countries and people make this mistake all the time.
Do what you are good at.  Delegate the rest.  You grow the apples, and I grow the bananas.  If you enjoy something, then chances are either that you are good at it, or you have the ability to become good at it.  So do it.
A while back I read that one of my favorite bloggers, Trent “Simple Dollar” Hamm, is restructuring.  From now on, Trent is just going to write.  Cut Media will handle the rest.  Brilliant.  Trent does what he is best at: writing.  He’s an awesome writer and has fantastic insights into personal finance.  From now on, he is just going to grow bananas.  Meanwhile Cut Media will do what it is good at: web servers, screening comments, selling advertising, etc.  it will grow all the apples.
Apples (Wikimedia Commons)

This is also my favorite career advice for students. Some students are natural accountants.  Some are not.  When a discouraged accounting student with low grades comes to me for advice, I ask them, “do you like accounting?”  If they say yes, I try to encourage them to try harder.  If they like to do accounting, and they’re good at it, and they work really hard, then they will be successful.  On the other hand, some students will sheepishly admit that they hate accounting.  They’re pursuing it because they want to find a good job, or because of family pressure.  These students have a tremendous challenge before them, an unnecessary challenge: the challenge of growing bananas in an apple orchard.

One more thing: delegating doesn’t mean quitting.  If you enjoy doing something, and you believe that you can be good at it, then work work work until you get it right.
With the Internet, it is easier than ever to delegate the tasks that you don’t want to do or that you are not good at.  Take advantage of these opportunities.  Focus on your strengths and what you enjoy.

About Mark P. Holtzman

Chair of Accounting Department at Seton Hall University. PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Worked at Deloitte's New York Office. BSBA from Hofstra University.

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