First up, this column is going to be short. Has to be, I promised it would be easy. Ridiculously easy, even.
Second of all, my inspiration was from this guy:
Here is his concept told in my own way, which I am sure he elaborates upon with much more eloquence in his new book:
So, here goes.
When I was a kid, I put posters up on my walls of people I thought were the best in the world. Mine were mostly guitarists. Maybe yours were sports stars, or super models.
I aspired to be the greatest, just like them. Maybe you did, too.
What happened? If you relentlessly ran after your dreams, and had enough genetic and environmental fortuitousness, you probably got pretty good at whatever that was. I believe I can say without too much boasting, I have become a world-class guitarist. But, greatest in the world? Ummm, no. Not by a long shot.
So, is that dream even still achievable? It is not completely impossible, but even if I were to muster up a 10-year dedication to 24/7 day-to-night boot camps of practicing scales, soloing, and other related skills; I would only reasonably expect to end up somewhere within the top 1,000 of guitar players worldwide when all was said and done. And, I’m guessing that if you started naming every guitar player you ever knew – including your weird uncle, and that guy from that band you used to go to school with – you’d be hard pressed to list even 100 guitar players without consulting the Google box.
So, am I saying dedication to becoming the best in the world at a skill is a waste of time? Of course not. But, what I am saying is that it is a very impractical way to develop marketable value.
For many skills, there isn’t even 100 people earning a living doing what they are the greatest in the world at. Take the chess world, for instance. Most people regard the study of chess as a noble pursuit, and consider top tier players to be walking geniuses. That skill does not equal automatic riches, however, unless you are playing for World Championships. This article lists potential earnings for chess players close to the bottom of the top-100 as potentially earning $50-70k annually, and then, only if they were to maximize their talent’s value in giving lessons, writing books, and hustling.
So, yeah, brevity. I need to get to the point.
The First Benchmark – Top 10% of the general population
It is insanely hard to become the best at anything. Conversely, it is insanely easy to be in the top 5%-10% of a skill compared to the general population. Quite often, simply habitually doing the skill will be enough. I will attempt to not bore you with statistics, but what percentage of the population do you believe routinely takes an easel out by the lake and paints landscapes? A tenth of one percent? Less?
Just purchasing the supplies needed to get started puts you reasonably close to the magical 10% mark! With even marginal intelligence and aptitude, you would sail into the upper-echelons of the general population within just a matter of weeks.
The problem begins when we stop comparing ourselves to the general population, and start comparing ourselves to the masters of our chosen field.
My wife and I threw a painting party for our kids. We built a couple dozen wooden easels, bought a crapload of paint and brushes, and let the kids go at it.
I can honestly say, I was super impressed with the group effort that came out of that experience. I thought the work was extremely talented. That being said, I do not paint professionally. I do recognize the fact that nothing looked quite as elaborate as Mr. Ross’ efforts seen above – but that didn’t make the kid’s paintings garbage. In fact, that one night of painting was probably enough to put them ahead of about 50-60% of the population who has never painted at all.
The Second Benchmark – Top 50% of skilled practitioners
Reaching this second benchmark is also an achievable reality. You don’t need much but passion and determination. Reaching this second benchmark is even possible in sports if you are at a genetic disadvantage. This is the classic, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” scenario.
You should expect to only spend 6 months to a year to reach this milestone. You see, the skill level of people in your chosen field usually follows the classic bell curve.
The people you pass at the -2 and -1 deviations are not even actively pursuing the skill. You will pass them so fast, your head will spin. Most of the people that populate that 34% between the -1 deviation and your 50% milestone are completely stagnant in their education and advancement. You, on the other hand, are improving every day! Reaching the midpoint is simply a matter of will. Making further progress, however, is not an easy endeavor.
The Third Benchmark – World-Class (top 5-10% of skilled practitioners)
There is a multitude of material about this subject. In the interest of brevity again…
(Geez, I know, I know…)
It takes 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class
The classic belief is it takes at least 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class at any skill. If you want to go past that, and attempt to become the greatest in the world at that talent, well, good luck. But, this column is not about that. In fact, it is about how every one of us has the potential to become valuable in our own way, at this same world-class level.
The Talent Stack
Back to Scott Adams. He says there’s 2 ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to be like Tiger Woods, and be the best in the world at something. That isn’t achievable for most of us. The second way is to develop a variety of skills that work well together. He calls this your “talent stack.”
Perhaps it would behoove you to start listing out your talent stack as it stands today?
I just finished recording my 3rd CD. I did each of these completely by myself. Without really thinking about it, I developed a complimentary talent stack in pursuit of this goal. I have educated myself on audio engineering. I have learned to play a variety of instruments other than the guitar. I have learned to sing. I studied songwriting and arranging. I learned enough about computers to build the machine I use to record. I watched some Photoshop tutorials so I could design my album covers. I worked enough with visuals to be able to create lyric videos for YouTube. And, I did just enough carpentry to be able to assemble a rudimentary work desk to hold it all together.
To market my music, I put together this basic website and started actively participating in social media. I even started writing a weekly blog post full of valuable info to lure people in. ahem…
Now realize, I would consider NONE of these skills to be in the “world-class” category. Some barely pass the ‘greater than 90% of the population’ mark! Nevertheless, here I am with my 3rd completed project in hand.
What if I waited until I was world-class at each skill before attempting my first project?
Trick question. I don’t think it is even possible to become world-class at anything without exercising that skill in a real-world way. The short answer however would be, you’d still be waiting for project 1.
Most successful people you know are not the best in the world at any one thing. Some talents, like persuasion or charisma, are actually a collection of various social abilities and can be difficult to measure. For example, here is Mr. Adams’ take on our President-elect.
I think Scott Adams may be short-changing Trump’s negotiating ability a bit. Very few people on this planet work out multi-million dollar deals with any sort of regularity. So, that may be at a world-class level, but the rest most certainly is not. No matter what you think of him, this humble talent stack (and a corrupt DNC) won him the most powerful office on Earth.
Your talent stack, when laid out on paper, is probably equally impressive to Mr. Trumps. It may even look much, much better. If it isn’t, we’ve already discovered it isn’t too difficult to improve your talent stacks with minimal effort. Get to it!
- Your collection of abilities probably make you pretty uniquely valuable already.
- I personally chased after skills in pursuit of a goal. Is there a skill set you could learn that would make a dream goal possible?
- Could your skills work well together to create something useful?
Also, apparently I have some work to do on my talent for brevity… But, since you’re still here, you should… (follow the instructions below the line)
Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.