Existential Friday Newsletter

v20: Can You Be The Best Or Do You Need To Quit?

“It’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.” -Mark Twain

The world is noisy.  It seems like the more connected we get, the harder it is to see clearly.  The internet has given us unprecedented access to information that was previously hard to find.  Even though access to a wide range of knowledge is an amazing resource, making sense of our world has become more complex.

Seth Godin takes complex ideas and simplifies them in a way that makes you realize obvious things you couldn’t see before.  His book The Dip builds on observations in The Long Tail.  The Long Tails shows how profits and success accrue to the people who are the best in the world.  The idea that there’s a standard distribution of profits is just wrong.  The best receive the majority of profits and the rest receive a small, relatively similar payout.

The Long Tail explains changes we see in an evolving economy.  Traditional education and it’s adverse consequences (student loans) are based on the notion that wages are somewhat normally distributed.  In other words, a good education should lead to a good job somewhere in the white collar distribution.  What if that’s just wrong?  If a normal distribution of wages truly exists for commodity jobs, then we probably have an oversupply of qualified white collar, commodity employees.

People look for ways to differentiate themselves (credentials, experience, etc), but there’s downward pressure on wages across the board.  Unless what?  Unless you find a way to be the best.  If you can be the best in the world at one thing, you’ll do much better financially than if you’re mediocre at a bunch of things.  Interesting.

In order to truly become the best, you’ll need to quit things along the way.  Seth’s book is about both mastery and quitting.  Knowing when and if you should quit are challenges you’ll need to figure out.  Yes, that means a little self-honesty.

Professionally the idea that we should be the best begs the question of whether or not things are worth pursuing.  Should you even bother if you don’t have the time, resources, or desire to become the best?

We’re all taught that “well-rounded” is what matters and good enough is good enough.  Those concepts lead to average and average isn’t enough.  Do you care if your Cancer Doctor is good at chess and has an affinity for smoked cheese?

Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, we should choose the small number (or one thing) where we can focus and become exceptional.  Is your day aligned that way now?  Are you contributing towards something where you can be the best or just working towards average?

Now, don’t start feeling overly discouraged.  The good news is that “best” need not be best for everyone.  Best really only matters for your audience.  You can choose to focus on a smaller groups rather than everyone.  In other words, we should really focus on serving a smaller number of highly engaged people rather than the other way around.

The book is short and I highly encourage you to pick it up and read it.  It’s simple and it just might change how you make decisions.

Here’s a PDF cheat sheet

A few images to illustrate concepts in the book

And of course . . .

The book

Miscellany:

Here are some cool, historical images of Disney.  It’s amazing to see someone manifest their vision.

And a few interesting facts about Walt.

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Damian Bergamaschi
2 years ago

Long time reader from Theta Trend. Excited to see this new direction Dan –Keep it up!
I haven’t read the book yet, will pick it up thanks for the link.
I think being “well rounded” helps IF (and only if) you can use all of that knowledge to Synthesize something truly new and unique. The problem with that is “non-linearity”. You just accrete knowledge without any measurable gain, until that magical inflection point (likely where that long tail lives).