Want to do a fun exercise?
Pick three of your top 3 skills.
Maybe it's programming, understanding systems, and playing guitar.
Maybe it's writing, connecting with people, and throwing great parties.
Maybe it's throwing great events, making people feel fantastic, and having a great eye for aesthetics.
Or managing people, ensuring followthrough, and persisting until things get done.
Whatever they are, do you have 3 of them?
They don't have to be your very best 3. Any 3 will do.
Now, what would you rank yourself 1 to 10 on those skills?
Got it yet? 7, 8, 9? 10?
Most people, if they're not being excessively modest, will rank themselves pretty highly on their top skills.
Now instead, imagine there's a "1 to 10,000" scale, where "10,000" is everything you could possibly know about the topic.
Regardless of how good you are, you can always and easily pick up more points on a 1 to 10,000 scale...
...so, go back and rank yourself now, 1 to 10,000, on those top skills of yours.
It's different, huh?
It's very easily possible to rank yourself "8 out of 10" in a skill -- but then, upon reflection, notice you maybe only would have "1,500 out of a possible 10,000" in that area.
1 to 10 scales obsolete themselves pretty quickly once you get a basic proficiency. You can go from a "2" to an "8" in money management, negotiating, fitness, communication, throwing great meetings, getting organized, or any domain-specific or precise skill pretty quickly. A year or two, at most.
But that only means you went from "100 points out of 10,000" to maybe "1,000 points out of 10,000"... expertise opens up more and more, higher and higher levels, of more and more intriguing and interesting ways to develop your skills.
Once a person gets over, say, 5,000 out of 10,000 -- if that ever happens to you, because it'd reflect a huge amount of mastery -- it would become hard for the lay person to even differentiate between the skill and ability of anyone up there.
So you might have a "9.5 out of 10" or even a "10 out of 10" in the minds of the general public, but you could still pick up tons of interesting little ways to think about things, do things, new mental models, new historical references, and literally hundreds or thousands of other ways to improve.
Rankings have some usefulness, so you can chart progress and mentally size yourself up. We don't have infinite time, and most likely you want to get good at least a half-dozen different skilled areas to build the life you want.
But a "1 to 10" scale is incredibly limiting -- it stops catching fine-grained differences right as soon as the game gets really interesting.
So, on a scale of 1 to 10,000... where are you at in your best skills? Where do you want to get?
Knowing when to STOP developing a skill is vital if one's goal is to become a generalist. A decathlete can't afford working solely on his javelin throw all year long... he has 9 other sports to get good at!
Of course, for the 1-sport performer, obsession is the name of the game.
The 1-10 scale should be thought of as logarithmic, ie the gaps between numbers get bigger. Getting from 7 to 8 is way easier than going from 9 to 10.
But I agree that 10000 points leaves more granularity for visualizing it.
I would agree about diminishing returns the higher up you go, it can be especially noticeable if you have a monetary interest in improving the skill. Do you have to know everything there is to know about your skill? No, you just have to know more than the pack. Once you are a top level (your specialty here) then the highest and best use of your time may be to develop complementary skills instead of trying to go higher if you are already higher than most. Diversification would bring higher returns on your time an effort in most cases.
I refer to the classic bear joke:
Two hikers are enjoying a beautiful sunset in a national park. Suddenly they hear a crashing noise in the bushes and spot a huge brown bear just yards away from where they are standing. The first hiker panics, the bear is pissed, attack is imminent!
The second hiker calmly sits on a rock, takes some running shoes from his pack and starts lacing them up.
His partner laughs at him despite the seriousness of the situation.
"Man, you're crazy! You can't outrun that bear!"
The second hiker smiles as he gets back on his feet.
"I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU!"
Professional downhill mountain cyclist Steve Peat once said: "Sometimes, when you're at the top of your game, these little one percents make all the difference."
I have a friend who has two things in his life: mathematical physics and strongman competitions (lifting rocks, pressing huge logs overhead, that kind of thing). I am in awe at the subtleties in improvement he seeks out. He prepares meticulously for competition and optimizes everything. He studies the strengths and weaknesses of his competition so he knows exactly which events he needs to crush and which ones will be easy-peasy.
I don't have so much insight into his academic career but I do know he has a similar mindset there.
I am quite different from him: he is a surgeon holding a laser, I am more like a manager of a fleet of dumptrucks.
Don't you think the returns diminish at some point? Obviously it depends on the skill and how important it is to your goals, but I've often made the conscious decision to stop focusing on a particular skill so intensively at an 8/10 (even if that only represents a 500/10000) because the extra effort to make that jump from an 8 to 9 is about equal to the effort to build an entirely new skill up to an 8.
Yes, it diminishes. That's why specialists are so great at what they do - they can afford to spend all of their time eking out ever-smaller chunks of improvements.
For generalists in spe like myself, the name of the game is to determine how much to bite off in a certain domain, and then keep every other skill balanced at the same time. I may never be a 10 in fitness, business, social/sexual, art, personal development, and logistics, but I DO have a shot at getting to 9 in each if I manage my time well.
I haven't necessarily thought about this concept in terms of numbers, but I have felt this way about my foreign language skills.
In the two languages I've seriously pursued (Japanese and Korean), I've hit a point where it feels like I'm at the top of the kindergarten class. Where I'm better than most ex-pats I run into, but then there are those other guys who are like, actually really good at communicating in the language.
In both cases, I hit that wall for different reasons (which I won't bore you with here.) Though perhaps instead of a wall, it'd be better to call it a really steep hill. With Korean, my desire to ascend that slope is close to zero; with Japanese...well, I might get there some day. We shall see.
> In both cases, I hit that wall for different reasons (which I won't bore you with here.) Though perhaps instead of a wall, it'd be better to call it a really steep hill.
Actually, I'd love to hear why you hit the wall / steep hill. Would be interesting if you have a moment.
A "brief" overview:
Japanese - I took years of classes. They didn't help me. I sucked at Japanese. My grades were okay, but I was consistently the worst speaker in my classes. Then I went to Japan, where it finally struck me that the language was "real," and not just homework/tests. That opened my eyes. I made a lot of progress, even once I returned to the U.S. from Japan, mostly by watching lots of Japanese TV and reading manga. My studies were going well. I planned to go back to Japan. Then my plans to return fell through, and I stopped studying. End of story.
In short, my experience with Japanese was a lot of failure, followed by some promising success, until "life got in the way." Maybe I would've hit another wall (as I eventually did in Korean - see below), or maybe I'll pick the language up again later and continue on my journey.
In any case, in August 2009, I found myself in Korea.
Korean - I applied the lessons from Japanese experience to Korean. From day one, I watched TV shows, tried reading books, and soon started sending text messages in Korean. The texting was fun... difficult but fun. When I hardly knew anything, it felt like I was decoding a puzzle, and then somehow recombining the puzzle pieces to make my own message. In any case, I never took any classes, yet I was doing better than my friends who took classes. Things were going well.
Then, I discovered the "steep hill." I was doing okay with day to day stuff, but I realized that if I wanted to get serious about Korean, I'd have to start watching the news, reading "serious" books, and really throw myself into the culture.
Simply put, that didn't appeal to me. I didn't like the culture enough to keep up my studies, and I since I didn't plan to live in Korea forever, I didn't see much practical use in speaking Korean. So, I just gave up, sometime during my third (and final) year in Korea. Obviously I kept using what I knew, but I made no effort to expand my knowledge.
Also, most of the younger Koreans I associated with spoke English quite well. And if I wanted to find work as a bilingual English/Korean speaker, I realized I'd have a whole lot of competition from native Koreans. (Of note: This isn't the case in Japan. Many of my friends there didn't speak English well, and Japanese companies seem much more willing to "outsource" their English to native English speakers.)
I still think I could become a solid Korean speaker, but why climb that steep hill if I didn't like what I saw on the top? The value just isn't there, as far as I'm concerned.
(This isn't to stop anyone else from trying. If Korean is your thing, go for it. It can be done!)
So, Korean is essentially dead to me. Japanese has been "on hold" for years, and I can't say for sure if I'll ever get back to it.
Only time will tell.
(I wanted to keep this brief, but it kept growing longer and longer. I have plans to write about this topic on my blog; I'll make sure the narrative is more coherent when I do.)
Whenever I'm trying to make a certain amount of money, I draw a variation of this table -
1 x 1,000,000 10 x 100,000 100 x 10,000 1,000 x 1,000 10,000 x 100 100,000 x 10 1,000,000 x 1
Where's the easiest place to hit on the chart? Depends on your skills, your industry, lots of things. But you start noticing interesting trends.
I reckon the $10,000 and $100,000 part of the spectrum is the one most overlooked today... five $100,000 contracts is $500,000.
But again, depends on your skills. A million sales of $1 apps isn't so crazy either.
Below is a great post by Dharmesh Shah on building a startup sales team. You can read the full post here.
"Your sales force if your company's lifeblood. No matter how good your product is, it won't sell itself, no matter how much you believe otherwise. Establishing a competent, effective team to draw customers is often challenging for entrepreneurs, though, who would rather focus on research and development or chase VCs.
First off, a few disclaimers: I've never been a sales person. I've never even played a sales person on TV. All the points below have been pulled from startup sales teams that I think work pretty well (including the team at my marketing software startup).
1. Don't hire sales people too early. In the early days, the founders should be able to sell (and should be selling).
2. You don't need sales people, you need sales. Don't think VP of Sales - think "Revenue Engineer". (Not the greatest analogy, but just like you won't hire a development "manager" as one of the first 5 people in a startup, you shouldn't hire a sales "manager" either). Don't get caught up in fancy titles - focus on dollars in the door.
Below is a great post by Dharmesh Shah on building a startup sales team. You can read the full post here. "Your sales force if your company's lifeblood. No matter how good your product is, it won't sell itself, no matter how much you believe otherwise. Establishing a competent, effective team to draw customers is often challenging for entrepreneurs, though, who would rather focus on research and development or chase VCs. First off, a few disclaimers: I've never been a sales person. I've never even played a sales person on TV. All the points below have been pulled from startup sales teams that I think work pretty well (including the team at my marketing software startup). 1. Don't hire sales people too early. In the early days, the founders should be able to sell (and should be selling). 2. You don't need sales people, you need sales. Don't think VP of Sales - think "Revenue Engineer". (Not the greatest analogy, but just like you won't hire a development "manager" as one of the first 5 people in a startup, you shouldn't hire a sales "manager" either). Don't get caught up in fancy titles - focus on dollars in the door. 3. Don't hire several sales people at once. Your goal is to figure out the "pattern" of what kinds of people are best based on what you're selling and who you're selling it to. You need some feedback from the system so you can continue to iterate on your hires. 4. If you've never hired or been around sales people before, be prepared for a bit of a shock to the system. They're not bad people, they're just different. If you're an introverted geek like me, it's helpful to remember that your startup needs to sell stuff. 5. Resist the temptation to create complicated compensation plans. If it requires a spreadsheet to figure out the commission, it's too hard. You'll have plenty of time to confuse sales people later - start simple. 6. Agile methodologies can work in sales as well. Iterate! Refine your demo script, your slides, and any other collateral information. Capture the lessons learned by the best-performing people and spread it to the rest. 7. Sales people will generally act in mostly rational (but often surprising) ways based on incentives. The rules of the game define the behavior of the players. You were warned. 8. Always connect incentives somehow to ultimate customer happiness. If you reward just "deals getting done", you'll get deals - but at too high a price. You might get push-back that sales people don't control/influence customer happiness, but they do. They "pick" customers. They set expectations. And they control the degree of "convincing" applied. 9. Make sure you understand the economics of your business. Figure out your total COCA (Cost of Customer Acquisition). This includes sales people, marketing people and marketing campaigns. Quick example: Lets say you paid a sales person $10k, a marketing person $10k and you spent $5k on Google AdWords (for a total of $25k) last month. If you sold 10 customers last month, your COCA is about $2,500. Different businesses have different needs in terms of sales vs. marketing spend. Make sure neither is too far out of whack. 10. Your life-time-value (how much revenue you expect to generate per customer) should be higher than your COCA. (No, I did not need a degree from MIT to figure that out.) Once your LTV is a multiple of your COCA, you're ready to start turning the knob and scaling the business a bit (hiring more sales people). But, if your LTV is way lower than your COCA, proceed with caution. If there is no hope for LTV getting higher than COCA, you've got a problem. Don't try to hire additional sales people until the economics sort of make sense. If the car is pointed towards a brick wall, hitting the accelerator is not a good idea. 11. Track data maniacally (even if it's just in a spreadsheet). Information you will want includes: What was sold, who sold it, when, for how much, etc. This data will be invaluable later as you start to scale. For example, you should be able to answer the question: We had 14 customers cancel last month - who sold those customers? Is there a pattern? In the early days, you likely won't have the volume (or the time) to analyze the data - but you should at least capture it for future use. 12. Your pricing should be in line with your sales structure. For example, you can't expect to have an outside sales force (that meets with customers in person) if your average deal size is only $10,000. The math won't work. 13. Once you get beyond three or so people, running your sales in a spreadsheet will become painful. Start looking at CRM systems (like Salesforce.com). 14. Start watching the shape of your "funnel" as early as possible. How many leads are you getting a month? How many turn into opportunities? How many of those convert into paying customers? Once you understand your funnel, you can slowly start tweaking your system to fix the "leaks". That's all I've got for now. For those of you that have built early-stage sales teams, what are your ideas and insights?"