Most Can’t Be #1 at 1 Thing. So Be Top 25% at 2 or More Things.

Gotta give a shout to Nick @dollarsanddata for the links below that I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now. He recently posted some notes about career management that Marc Andreesen wrote 11 years ago, and I’m highlighting a critical excerpt below about how to build your skills in a realistic way. This is enough to stand on its own, but great weekend reading to go through the entire Andreesen 7-part series. Every word of it is great. Thanks Nick.

One of the single best ways you can maximize the impact you will have on the world and the success you will have in your career is by continuously developing and broadening your base of skills.

My favorite way of thinking about this is:

Seek to be a double/triple/quadruple threat.

Scott Adams — the creator of Dilbert — nails it:

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:

1. Become the best at one specific thing.

2. 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. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

…Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

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…

It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%.

The fact is, this is even the secret formula to becoming a CEO. All successful CEO’s are like this. They are almost never the best product visionaries, or the best salespeople, or the best marketing people, or the best finance people, or even the best managers, but they are top 25% in some set of those skills, and then all of a sudden they’re qualified to actually run something important.


‘Career Advice’ circa 2007 from Dilbert creator Scott Adams

Marc Andreesen Guide To Career Planning

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