In America, we’re brought up in an educational system that teaches us to focus on our deficiencies rather than our assets. Think about when you’d get your report card in school: if you had five A’s and one C, what would your parents and teachers tell you to focus on? The C. You were encouraged to study that subject more and leave the others alone. 

It’s no wonder then that we have a tendency to focus on our shortcomings instead of our assets. And it’s no wonder that we tend to think the only way to solve a problem is by changing ourselves

In our community of Entrepreneurial Activists, we call this breakdown

What is Breakdown? 

Jobs provide another great illustration of breakdown. When you’re hired for a job, there’s a list of skills and responsibilities you have to take on and you’re expected to do them all. These skills are all over the map, which means there are ones you’re inherently great at and ones you inherently suck at. But because you’re responsible for everything, you end up focusing the most time and energy on the things you’re bad at in order to bring them up to the standards of everything else. 

If you’re an amazing creative problem-solver and bad at time management, you’re told to get better at time management. (Or even better, to use creative problem-solving to get better at time management.) 

This is a tool of internalized oppression. In a culture with large amounts of economic inequality like the one we live in, the powers that be need to keep people oppressed. A great way to do that is by encouraging them to focus on what they’re not good at. Make them internalize the idea that their faults define them rather than their strengths. This keeps people spinning in the hamster wheel rather than working collaboratively, each in our own area of genius, to overthrow the system. 

When most people start their first business, they bring this thought model with them. And of course—why wouldn’t they? They don’t have any other model for thinking about their strengths and weaknesses. 

If those entrepreneurs find themselves in the Kite + Dart community, they’re asked to challenge the notion. We ask: “Is the best solution to this problem you changing? Or is it you staying focused on what you’re great at and the situation changing?” 

That’s where discernment comes into play. 

What is Discernment? 

Whereas breakdown is relating to a problem by changing yourself, discernment is relating to a problem by changing the situation. Discernment encourages focusing on what you’re great at and what’s working rather than the negatives. 

Say an entrepreneur has a website that isn’t converting.

In the breakdown model, the business owner thinks, “My website isn’t converting. I need to improve my skill set at building websites that convert.” They might do research, take online courses, study, watch tutorials, build the site, and overall dedicate a significant amount of time to creating a website that converts. They solve the problem by changing themselves, by making themselves better at building effective websites. 

In the discernment model, the business owner thinks, “My website isn’t converting, but I’m still getting leads. Where are my effective leads coming from? How can I double down on those efforts to build my business?” If their leads are coming from social media rather than a website, they might dedicate an extra 3 hours a week to engaging on social media, or they might invest in great photos that make their profile pages representative of their personality. 

Another business owner in the discernment model might think, “My website isn’t converting. I’m not a web designer, but I have a collaborator who is.” They could then hire someone to work on their site so they can continue focusing on the parts of their business they’re exceptional at—the parts of their business that make it work. 

How to Use a Discernment Model 

First thing’s first: we invite you to consider that there’s nothing wrong with you. You are perfect, whole, and complete, and you have everything you need to succeed in business right now. 

Need to read that again? 

There is nothing wrong with you. You are perfect, whole, and complete. You have everything you need to succeed in business right now. 

When business owners adopt that as the primary context for their work, a whole world of possibilities open up. You can start solving problems based on what’s best for you. We like to say that inside of every entrepreneur is an optimal business that enables them to use what they’re great at to bring more of what they care about to the world. In other words, we believe that every entrepreneur has the potential to use their unique skills and passions as a vehicle for contribution and profit. 

When entrepreneurs start honoring what they’re great at, what they care about, and the people they care about—and also acknowledge what they’re not great at, what they don’t care about, and the people they’re not interested in working with—transformation occurs. They become radically empowered. Their business becomes wildly attractive. 

People become attracted to their personality, their brand, and the mission of their business. Transformation occurs for their clients, team members, and communities. Revenue and impact grow exponentially. Things begin to work. 

Sounds good, doesn’t it?


Each month, Kite + Dart hosts several free workshops on running a business from a place of equity and ethics. See what’s coming up here.

Written in partnership with Ali Weeks of Moxie Writing Co.