Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert comics and a best-selling self-improvement author. His career advice is:
If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like.
But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: Become the best at one specific thing. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try. The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort…
Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix.
For most people, the correct career advice is figure out some clever specialty and get very, very good at it. The trouble of it is, is if that’s all you do, you make terrible mistakes everywhere else. So synthesis should be your second attack on the world.
This chapter has 3 sections:
Average successful life
In this book, the “Financial freedom” chapter describes how to become independently wealthy in 5–10 years by working a regular day job and running a side business.
An ideal day job is working for the government. Compared to the private sector, unionized government workers:
When securing a new job, 61% of workers are helped by a former manager or co-worker, 17% by an acquaintance, and 13% by a friend or relative.
You don’t have to love your job. Jobs can be many things, but they’re also a way to make money. Many people live fine lives in okay jobs by using the money they make on things they care about.
We live in a world where superstars reap most of the rewards:
1% of artists account for 64% of sales at auction
1% of musicians account for 60% of concert-ticket revenues worldwide
1% of scientists account for 42% of published papers
1% of workers account for 17% of national income in the United States
Fortune 500 CEOs earn 339X more than their employees
The world’s richest 8 people own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion
You can’t be normal and expect abnormal returns.
Here is a system for becoming a superstar:
An intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest.
Develop your talent stack
Scott Adams defines a talent stack as being very good at several things. For example, Adams is not the best artist or writer. But he says, “When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique.” With his talent stack, Adams created the first popular comic strip about office workers and generated a net worth of $80 million.
For your talent stack, develop skills faster by following the “Learning” chapter in this book.
I made a list of the skills in which I think every adult should gain a working knowledge. I wouldn’t expect you to become a master of any, but mastery isn’t necessary. Luck has a good chance of finding you if you become merely good in most of these areas…Public speaking, Psychology, Business writing, Accounting, Design (the basics), Conversation, Overcoming shyness, Second language, Golf, Proper grammar, Persuasion, Technology (hobby level), Proper voice technique.
Learn fundamentals and new knowledge
Scientific knowledge is doubling every 8 to 9 years. In parallel, about 50% becomes outdated or is disproven. What knowledge is worth learning?
First, focus on fundamentals. In every field, some timeless principles and techniques stand the test of time.
Second, monitor the latest developments for opportunities to create new niches. Consider joining a community of enthusiasts.
Finally, keep a mental list of the top 10 problems in your field. Over time, your subconscious will seek solutions.
I very frequently get the question: “What's going to change in the next 10 years?” ...I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two—because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time...It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher” ...When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.
Create a new niche
Use your talent stack to create a new niche. That way, you don’t compete against entrenched incumbents. For example, it would be difficult to succeed with a new comic strip about office workers—Dilbert dominates that niche.
Also, new niches offer the opportunity for explosive growth. For example, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen studied the computer disk drive industry. He found that companies which brought proven technology to new markets had a 37% chance of reaching $100 million in revenues versus 6% for companies entering established markets. By using proven technology, companies reduced technical risk and were able to focus on creating the new market.
You become a famous artist (or a famous product) by being first in a new category. Over time art critics give the new category a name and associate it with the painter who pioneered the category. Sensationalism and Damien Hurst, for example.
In fields such as art, music, books, and science, researchers found that luck accounted for 50% of career success. Increase your luck by producing lots of work—studies of creative geniuses found that quantity increased the probability of masterpieces. Another way is placing yourself in fortune’s path. Big cities, top schools, and talented teams attract opportunities.
Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity—it is very much like compound interest.
Many people do not realize that they are getting a lucky break in life when they get it. If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned: you may never see such a window open up again. I am sometimes shocked at how little people realize that these opportunities do not grow on trees. Collect as many free nonlottery tickets (those with open-ended payoffs) as you can, and, once they start paying off, do not discard them. Work hard, not in grunt work, but in chasing such opportunities and maximizing exposure to them. This makes living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters.
Most superstars have found a way to leverage their career. For example, Naval Ravikant is an entrepreneur and investor. He explains leverage in the real estate industry:
A laborer gets paid $15/hour
A general contractor gets paid $50,000 for a project; hires laborers at $15/hour; and pockets the difference
A real estate developer raises money from investors; buys a property; hires contractors for renovations; and sells it for a profit of $500,000
A real estate fund manager raises money from institutional investors; invests in dozens of real estate developers; and makes millions in profit
An entrepreneur raises venture capital and hires a team of software engineers; they develop technology that automates real estate transactions; the company goes public at a valuation of $1 billion
Software is highly leverageable. Once it’s created, it costs almost nothing to manufacture and distribute. This allows it to scale quickly to millions or even billions of users. It’s similar for other digital goods such as music, movies, books, and video games.
A great lathe operator commands several times the wage of an average lathe operator, but a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.
When I started my career, I wish I knew these skills:
How to manage people and how to be managed
90 minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate’s work for 2 weeks, or for some 80+ hours…Clearly, one on ones can exert enormous leverage.
How to run a meeting
Before: send an agenda with the goal
Beginning: ask whether everyone still agrees with the goal
During: write key points on a whiteboard, ensure everyone gets to talk, and keep track of time
After: send a summary of key points, decisions, action items, and people responsible
I am frequently asked to facilitate meetings. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, 20 minutes before the agreed end-time of the discussion, I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?”
Tips for projects
Project plans should include goals, tasks, and timelines
All projects should have a responsibility matrix:
Accountable: who sets the goal and owns success or failure?
Responsible: who is doing tasks and hitting deadlines?
Consult: whose opinions must be asked?
Inform: who wants progress updates?
People always ask me where they should go to work, and I always tell them to go to work for whom they admire the most.
Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.
Adams S. (2007, July 20). Career advice. Dilbert Blog. https://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/career-advice.html
Average successful life
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Across fields, the influence of luck consistently ranged from 51 to 56%
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16% of agents had a neutral-luck life, whereas 40% of agents had exclusively lucky or unlucky lives
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