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How to Become the Best in the World at Something (forge.medium.com)
322 points by crdrost 86 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 141 comments



I think this is a fallacy, its true that becoming 90th% in a few different fields would render you quite the unicorn. The issue is that its common for there to be very low demand for such an overlap of skill sets. Also, how would you leverage such an overlap? These positions and opportunities do not just appear as you are qualified, the job market is extremely inefficient, and not very good at correctly pricing ability. Whats more, being the best in the world at something generally makes that skill very recognizable to others. You are a standout and ascend extremely quickly. I would argue the true best strategy is to shoot for best in your city or country/world at some nascent niche skill.

As an addition, this kind of article is part of a group of articles aimed at seeming to be a "novel" or "clever" approach to life, somehow holding the key to outsmart others. Most likely it a complete waste of your five minutes. Its similar to thinking about the Dunning Kruger effect, a complete waste of time.


> The issue is that its common for there to be very low demand for such an overlap of skill sets. Also, how would you leverage such an overlap?

The only overlap they really gave in the examples was "They're good at X skill.... and marketing themselves." Literally, the example people were good at both a skill and then marketing themselves as being good at that skill. Gary Vaynerchuk is both a good writer and good at marketing himself. Steve Jobs was good at design and also marketing himself. Tomas Pueyo is apparently decent at engineering and also ... marketing himself, with articles and TED talks like this. This is also why people can name Neil deGrasse Tyson but probably not a single other living astrophysicist. He's not the best in the world, but he's the best astrophysicist in the world at marketing himself.

So the advice isn't really to be good at two different skills. The advice is to be pretty good at one skill and then be really good at marketing yourself as being good at that thing. Even though other people in the world will be better at it, if you're good at marketing yourself you'll still be in more demand.


I think that's a great observation.

One exception I can think of where you legitimately need to be decent at three skills is bootstrapping as a solopreneur.

You need to be able to code, design, and market your product.

Other than that, it does seem like "X + marketing" is what you need, though I guess "marketing" is an umbrella term (content marketing requires writing ability, public speaking requires public speaking ability, etc.).


Sure, and I'm sure there are actual cases where being good at 2 different skills (not one of which being some form of marketing yourself) is relevant. Devops pretty much requires being good at both development and server administration. You're correct that bootstrapping requires multiple different skills, including some amount of business sense. There are many cases where having multiple different skills could make you the best in the world at that combo. But those correlations aren't random -- so lots of different people will be trying to be the best at the same set of skills as you, since they're connected as requirements -- and despite the article's premise, that's not the case the author's examples make.

The article really just makes it clear it's important to be able to market yourself. However "people able to market their skills achieve more than people who can't" is not as interesting an article premise as "How to Become the Best in the World at Something (by being good at multiple skills)". And the author went with the latter because, well, it's important to be able to market yourself well.


> This is also why people can name Neil deGrasse Tyson but probably not a single other living astrophysicist

Brian May :)


Everybody is a salesman, yet few people realize it.


I don’t think this is the right takeaway - the examples all had marketing as the second skill because the author wanted them to be people that the reader would recognize. This means that they needed people with a public persona, which lends to self marketing being the shared skill. A person with a skill set that doesn’t include marketing could be just as successful, but you as a reader aren’t going to connect to the example of the author’s second cousin Sam.


I agree with you. I used to think that marketing is just another department's job.

Turns out that your own personal branding is very important to your career.


I’m a generalist and it works for me in my one man company. In my previous company I hired specialists, not generalists, because the specialists did not suffer from distractions as much as generalists did. They also didn’t question everything a specialist in another area did. It’s also easier to build teams that way.


True, but is your level of success similar to the level of success of someone who is the best in the world at something?


That's a good point.

However, I think the question is how likely it is that you would be able to become the best in the world at something?

I think that people who are the best in the world at something tend to be genetic freaks. Are you one? Probably not.

In that case, attempting to become the best in the world might mean setting yourself up for failure, though presumably you would still be more successful than an average person. It's just that there's a massive difference between being in the top 10% and the top 1% in terms of reward.


I guess people being at the 99 percentile of one specialized thing probably are better compensated (with respect to salary) than people being at 99 percentile of their array of skills. However, maybe for the latter, also compensation is an array consisting of work-life-balance elements like sports, free-time, hobbies, happiness on the job and family life aside from pure monetary compensation.


I think that's definitely something to consider. In theory, everyone would love to be the best in the world at something, but in practice, how many people would want to live a life required to achieve that?


Probably not, but the author thinks that as a generalist your changes of succes are higher, not the level of success.


It's a regurgitation of something Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist) has said for years. In Adams' case his example is that he wasn't the greatest artist in the world, he wasn't the funniest joke writer in the world, but he was ok at both and combined they made a cartoon that was very successful.

I guess you could just look at "cartooning" as a single skill in itself, but that's the idea.


These articles about generalists are a trend. You'll see it morph into a focus on quantity in a few years. Both single focus quality and broad generalist work.


> Its similar to thinking about the Dunning Kruger effect, a complete waste of time.

What do you mean by this and how do you justify such a statement?


I can't speak for the OP, but Dunning-Kruger does seem pretty useless as a practical matter. Maybe it tells you why you see so many overconfident dumb people. Maybe you realize it's more useful as a warning to you for thinking you are the smart one in the equation. Either way, it doesn't really offer anything actionable.


I disagree. Understanding fundamentally how and why people can be overconfident is very useful when interacting with others, especially in a professional setting or anywhere else that politics are involved: frequently, overconfidence (especially when unchallenged) is rewarded — for instance, in interview processes. Having a name for the mechanism at play is useful for assessing and communicating about such situations.


Seems pretty actionable to me. For one, informing people of it alone can give them insight into their overconfidence if they are able to be mindful of it.


To me the article is very helpful. I aim to be in the global top 10-20% for the following areas: engineering, movement (functional capabilities of my body), martial arts (BJJ, maybe later MMA), nutrition, inner practice & discovering the nature of consciousness, art of learning and presenting. Combining engineering with one or two areas might be an interesting opportunity. The pool of software engineers who e.g. also do martial arts, or are interested in meditation or the process of learning seems globally large enough to support possible well-executed business.

Regarding marketing, I start to gravitate more towards experts who provide long-form content. For example, Ray Peat in nutrition [1] or John Danaher in BJJ [2]. This might be another marketing approach - no marketing at all, just providing high-quality long-form content, with no social media. It might attract people who think in a similar way as me.

[1] http://raypeat.com/

[2] https://bjjfanatics.com/products/back-attacks-enter-the-syst...


One nice thing to share here is that a statistical model for success under such conditions is for there to be a collection of independent random variables that multiply to form your overall success: people who lack any particular one of them, x_1 and x_2 = 1000 but x_3 = 0, see the product x_1 x_2 x_3 = 0, below people who have x_1 = 10, x_2 = 10, x_3 = 10.

Taking a logarithm, one gets a sum of independent identically-distributed variables, which then tend to sum to a normal distribution due to the Central Limit Theorem, meaning that success distributions produced by multiplication tend to be log-normal. This was argued by John D. Cook at [1]. Log-normal distributions are interesting because they have a long tail—usually the top people drawn are way, way better than you might have expected; normal populations stick within several standard deviations of the mean but long-tailed ones see remarkable achievers many tens of standard deviations above the mean. This result has been long known for things like wealth and income and other measures of external success. So there is a lot of truth to this idea that, say, if you are a programmer, your time is worse spent on building that extra expertise with things that you are good at, like programming, and better spent on building new expertise with things that you are not good at, like perhaps digital art or negotiation/persuasion or accounting.

[1] https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2009/09/29/achievement-is-log...


This changes with the size of the firm you're part of. It's true for individual pursuits like basketball, drawing comics, or entrepreneurship.

But a big corporation gets around a lack of any one critical variable by hiring someone for that variable. So if you're an excellent backend engineer, your time is wasted learning digital art, because somebody else will be making the artwork. Effectively the corporation becomes the organism and you become one specialized organelle in them. You're better off increasing your expertise within that specialty than learning other ones - say by firsthand experience with all the ways distributed systems can fail.

The returns to being a top individual producer beat the top returns to being a corporate drones, but the average returns are significantly worse (because the big corporation benefits from being able to swap out individual motivated actors to plug deficiencies rather than having to develop skills itself), so depending on your risk tolerance, this may or may not be a good strategy.


> So if you're an excellent backend engineer, your time is wasted learning digital art, because somebody else will be making the artwork.

Tangentially, as a backend engineer, I've had to tell the people who made the digital art that the additional icon they supplied me wasn't quite the same color as the existing ones it was supposed to match and also looked misaligned because it didn't follow the same geometrical conventions.

So I wish what you're saying were true, but it isn't necessarily. This being a tangent, I'm not necessarily looking for a moral to the story here, but maybe it's something about having a certain minimum competence in an area so you can be sure you're working effectively with others.

(EDIT: What is a backend engineer doing with an icon at all? Sticking the URL where it's hosted into a config file and modifying the logic so that it shows up (or doesn't) as appropriate, then testing that by looking at the UI and seeing art that looks wrong.)


It's quite a stretch to go from an argument on distributions to an argument on the best marginal use of ones time. Those in the right of the log normal curve have had to learn their skill as well. It's all about trade offs. The regular advice I've learned is to improve your primary skill until you are a professional senior, then expand your skills. And even that then goes against the popular Federer story who started in other sports and whose tennis teaching mother wouldn't teach him!


An aside, but basketball is probably not the best example. A large amount of men 7ft tall or more have played in the NBA. over 17%. So basketball many of them have achieved elite height not skill.

http://www.truthaboutit.net/2012/05/true-or-false-half-of-al...


Author here. That's actually a good point. Thank you!


Spudd Web!


About 2800 people in the world are 7 feet tall or taller. 0.000038%.

Half are women. 300/400 would be in the age range at anytime. If 10% play basketball. That's only 40.


Much less than half would be women.


> There are 43 players in the National Basketball Association that are at least seven feet tall. Fourteen of those players are seven-foot-one or taller.

https://gooddeedseats.com/tallest-players-of-every-nba-team-...


Interesting. I wonder how many all-stars vs bottom feeders. Sevenfooters need to rebound/block sometimes shoot but rarely are they the best of the best and suffer from more health issues.


I think there is yet another path: hyper specialization in one ludicrously specific niche no one else cares about or has good reason for not getting into.

If you spend 10k hours perfecting something no one else even thought of trying, chances are you'll be the best in the world at it.


It definitely feels good to wake up in the morning and say, "I'm faster than anyone else on this planet at peeling lemons with my toes"


Yeah, YouTube for instance is filled with examples of this, some of which become major success stories on the platform. In the gaming world alone, I can already think of people like pannenkoek2012 and Stryder7x, whose entire careers are basically built on glitches in Super Mario 64 and Paper Mario respectively.

And many outside that too. From medieval weaponry to chicken shop reviews, the internet has a fair people who make a living off all kinds of very specific subjects that most people wouldn't even think about.


> hyper specialization in one ludicrously specific niche no one else cares about or has good reason for not getting into

So... like get a PhD?


Can you give a specific example, though?

Because generally, no competition means no demand, so while it might be satisfying to be best in the world at something, an obscure skill might not translate into financial success.


In the world of signal processing there are a lot of technical areas that are super important/lucrative but few people have expertise in them. Often it takes not only technical competence but years of experience.

To make this example even more specific, maybe you are good at writing fast decoding algorithms for new telecom standards.

There is also a lot of now low-hanging fruit in compressed sensing for the mathletes/computer people who know what that's about.

Edit: Actually, just learn math if you're looking to get ahead and have an advantage over many people. This advice doesn't make for the best blogpost or YouTube video but it's effective.


If the field you're in has a million people, then split the field into a million pieces (actually this is probably too conservative, maybe go with 100k or even 10k) and pick one to become best at.

Since the field is currently successfully employing a million people there must be that many profitable pieces if you slice it correctly.


Become the world's best at counterfeiting an obscure country's currency?


Sport is going this way. There's a growing body of evidence that early specialization produces less champions. Kids are encouraged to participate in other sports well into their teen years. Less burn out, lower injuries and this approach creates more athletes that can be described as "naturals". They have skills and abilities that seem magical and unexpected.


Some people are actually legit naturals though. There was this one kid I knew that didn't play sports growing up, but if you gave him a basketball in gym class you could nail every 3 pointer. He was asked to come out to compete in an important track meet because he was known to be fast and he ran a 400m hurdles race in 53 seconds with the worst possible form. For reference, in the men's World Championships earlier in the month the winner ran 47.4 with most others finishing before 49. He just didn't care for sports though ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Makes me wonder who else is out there with this kind of talent and what kind of records could be broken/made if they tried or had the opportunity.


You also have the case where natural ability is a hindrance. If the kid is used to not having to work at a particular sport, they will have trouble when they get to a point that they have to involve deliberate practice in order to get beyond their current level (something they never had to do before).


This applies to academics as well. A lot of people have stories of being the best in their class/school at something, but when they get to college they are average, or even below average because they never had to deliberately study.


I think this is a serious issue for intelligent people.

The curriculum is tailored towards people of average intelligence, so if you are one, two, or three standard deviations above that, you won't be under pressure to develop a work ethic because you can get good grades without it.

Of course, if your intelligence is above average, then you probably are interested in a career that attracts other intelligent people.

And then you are in a serious trouble, because now you are in an environment where everyone is of similar intelligence, so you don't have your competitive advantage anymore, plus some people have a work ethic that you lack.

And even if you are still a standard deviation above most people, there are likely other people who are at the same level as you, and they might have a work ethic.

I think this is something that people who have intelligent children need to pay attention to.


ESR wrote a semi-famous email to Linus Torvalds about exactly this phenomenon:

http://lwn.net/2000/0824/a/esr-sharing.php3


I wasn't the best in HS, but I never had to study...ever. Got to college and nearly failed out my first semester while I taught myself how to study.


A related thing happened to me in grad school: I had always done well in academics, and I even had a strong work ethic in addition to “natural” talent. But I had never really needed to exercise creativity in an academic domain, and I more or less fell flat on my face when I had to define my own novel problems.

Even after grad school, in industry, I’ve been much more of a strong executor than an idea generator.


I was especially curious about this for education. If you explain things too much you may get more good students but they may drop on the first struggle.


This is illustrated with Billy Beane’s story in Money Ball


At my boxing gym every few months some kid would show up and after a week he would be much better than everybody else. These guys just understood the sport immediately and also had physical ability. A lot of these guys dropped out but if this level of talent meets with interest and work ethic then you get super athletes like Michael Jordan or Michael Schumacher in F1.

My ex coach knew sugar ray Leonard pretty well in his youth and he said that Ray started beating up people already in his first day at the gym without having learned boxing technique. He just watched once and knew what to do.


That's why I think that trying to be the best in the world at something almost certainly means setting yourself up for failure.

At the top, you have genetic freaks with insane work ethic that are obsessed with that particular skill. Can you compete with that? No.

I'd guess that if you have average talent, you can probably get to the top 10%, mainly through outworking everyone else. But you will never be the best in the world.


Anecdotally, during the years I effectively spent the entirety of my time playing competitive multiplayer games, I reached the top 0.1% level in 4 different games with player counts far above a million. 3 of those being entirely different genres many skills did not directly transfer between.

And you know what I learned? 1. 750+ hours of "practice" is always required and 2. The difference between top x.x% and #1 is astounding.

There are very few areas of skill in which putting in several thousand hours of consistent practice will not land you in the top 1% at least, assuming you have close to the average physical/mental aptitude of people who usually take up this skill.

But you will never be Magnus Carlsen. The skill difference between 0.01% and #1 is far greater than the skill difference between 50% and 1%.


> There's a growing body of evidence that early specialization produces less champions. Kids are encouraged to participate in other sports well into their teen years.

This is the subject matter of the book "Range":

https://www.amazon.com/Range-Generalists-Triumph-Specialized...


Two of my greatest loves are tennis and photography. I've been playing tennis for over 20 years (nearly a decade competitively) and I started taking photography seriously about 7 years ago. In both of these fields, especially tennis, I'm comfortable enough where I can teach it to just about anyone.

In the first few years of doing both, there were plenty of times where I was intimidated by better people, where I'd ask myself "why can't I be more like X?"

At some point, there came a time when I became comfortable enough in my abilities so that I no longer think that way. All in all I think I'm an excellent tennis player and that I take great photos. So what if Alice is a better tennis player than me? So what if Bob takes better photographs?

If anything, and this is especially true with photography, whenever I come across a better person I try to take away something from their skills that can use to improve myself.


This seems to be an elaboration/rediscovery/variant of something Scott Adams[1] said a while ago:

https://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/car...

Decent advice, imho.

[1] Note, this does not constitute an endorsement of Scott's political views.


Yep, I quote him in the article as such! "The solution is skill stacking, a concept popularized by Scott Adams."


I loved the article. I'll be sharing it. The visualizations make it much more digestable and inspirational. Also, the link you posted to Adams' blog has a messed up cert or something. I'm on Firefox on Android. I'll reach out to him as well.


I'm a fan of tennis, I'm not a very good player though, and never will be - I don't want to play 12 hours a day. I've watched Federer many times and a couple of take aways I've seen from watching him - practice every day, if you're losing, just keep going, the other guy will eventually give up or make a mistake, or you'll lose today, the other guy will eventually give up.

I really think this is the only way to be the best at something - do it every day, some days you'll fail, but if you keep going, eventually you'll have so much expertise you'll wake up one day and be the best, or close enough.

The trouble is no one really wants to do this, all Federer does is tennis, he must love it, every day he gets up and plays tennis. Most people will stop at good enough though.

If Federer played basketball, would he be the best? probably not, so thats the other thing - pick something your body and brain is built for, and do it every day.

If there were any short cuts then the best would use them any way and add them to their arsenal, so any short cuts will be short lived.

I think PG said something the same about start ups - they don't fail the founders just stop.

I think this ties in with why so many start ups are made by rich kids, they can afford not to stop, everyone else has to stop at some point and get a job.


I concur, it also reminds me of this famous quote : “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ” —Aristotle.


I always find it surprising when so much of what we think and talk about today is the same thing that people thought and talked about a couple of thousand years ago, very little about people has changed.


See, I would be surprised if it was the other way.


Author here. Actually Federer does not do tennis. In fact, he's famous for trying lots of different sports before settling on tennis.


Hi, interesting article. I'm pretty sure he does do tennis :-), but I see your point. Ash Barty also credits her current position with the year she took off to play cricket. There was a study just recently I saw about this - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181108110020.h... its about hockey players.


If the goal is to be the best in the world for the sake of being the best in the world at something, just pick something really obscure.

I'm the best in the world a tactical boomerang juggling in Breath of the Wild. A gamer with pro-level skills could probably show me up with a few hours practice, but until someone decides to do that, I'm the best.


I think the goal is to be best in the world at something that society will reward, that will enable you provide it with something it wants that it doesn't know how to get or doesn't know it wants yet.

In your case, making entertaining videos of popular games is a pretty profitable niche.


I know I'm not the best at anything I do, but when combined the overlap makes a niche for me that has so far worked out well. Pure luck frankly.

However that is only because the skills I'm thinking of aren't in themselves hugely common. I'm not mega skilled at them, but the relative rarity of some means the overlap really is quite small - fortunately!

It's not going to be good advice if your key skills are, say selling things and being super knowledgable about cars. Oh look, an obvious union but that combination is popular already. So I'd say start by becoming good at a couple niche skills and then see where you end up.


That sounds like a common idea the Dilbert author mentions from time to time.

He could draw a little, and he knew about the business world a little, but not many people could combine those things -- and be a business cartoonist.


The article indeed credits Scott Adams (the Dilbert author) with the term "skill stacking".


He also started kind of early and managed to keep it going. Starting early is extremely important for...pretty much everything.


As is keeping it going.


Yes!


And here I was, expecting to read a ‘hypothetical’ plan to assassinate all one’s competition... maybe it’s time to put The Prince down.


That's how masters (old timers) rowing seems to work. You just wait for whoever is faster to die of old age and if you die first it's not your problem anymore.


Start early.

Benchmark with the leaders.

Be prepared to work as hard as them, and actually do it for enough years to make a difference.

Outlive them. This is what you were planning to do when you started early.

For a pursuit where skill building is a function of effort over a lifetime.

In sports I guess that would be your athletic lifetime.


Gail Roper,swimming:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gail_Peters

(I've had the privilege of being beat by someone decades my senior.)


"The easiest way to be at the top of your field is to choose a very small field." - Simone Giertz, TED Talk, May 14, 2018 https://singjupost.com/why-you-should-make-useless-things-si...


That’s one of the questions i always wanted to ask the top people such as Bill Gates or someone like Dennis Ritchie. Being the top isn’t something easy, but i feel like people overestimate it quite a lot, to the point that they quit thinking they want to be the best. I can say , the world is much smaller than the concept we draw on our minds. So many stuff that i looked into, especially in the programming world, is simpler than what’s in my mind. The reason why we always think that it’s big and hard thing to achieve is due to how we were taught in schools. We get taught about stuff that on the next grade they say it’s more than we think. Take negative numbers for example, we start knowing that numbers are only positive and nothing such as 2-5 is possible, then we get taught that that idea is wrong.

Anyway, we tend to overestimate because of how we used to encounter. If we dedicate ourselves to something, it will pay off. If there is someone that’s world class on something, you shouldn’t focus on becoming him, but focus into further things. We are all alike at the end, it’s our enthusiasm that drive us into pursuing our goals. The only difference between you and the other top 1 is that he had more interest.

Basically to put it in simpler words, don’t think that there is a huge gap between you and your understanding of the world and your goal. It’s much less than you think


> "The only difference between you and the other top 1 is that he had more interest."

Wishful thinking. The most important component is genetic ability, which must be enabled by an environment allowing you to put in the required effort (i.e. developed or developing country, food and housing, minimal education). Interest and discipline is a tertiary concern.

It's way easier to be interested in something if you have natural aptitude.


> You will not be the world’s greatest writer, nor the top chess player, nor the most masterful public speaker.

> It’s not about being great at any one thing — you just need to be pretty good at an array of useful skills that, when combined, make you truly one of a kind.

As somebody who was the world’s #2 chess player for my age as a kid (okay, not the “top” but close enough) - I’d like to say that the advice in this article is terrible for anyone who wants to reach their full potential.

The part I really have a problem with is this:

> There will always be someone working harder... [or] someone with greater genetic gifts, or more luck, or both.

The only way to get world-class at something is to work your ass off. To have discipline and apply yourself consistently to the practice, day in and day out, for years.

And yeah, even if you do that, you still might not be best in the world at that thing. But you know what? The relationship with yourself that you cultivated while mastering that discipline will 100% translate over to any other endeavor you wish to pursue.

Similarly, if you always give up on things because you always see there’s someone better than you, that pattern will hinder your ability to excel everywhere.

My competitive chess career was pretty brief in the end. I realized that staying at the top would require total dedication and no social life (home schooling etc), and yes, there were other up and coming kids who seemed to be at a level I couldn’t reach. So I gave up the dream of being world chess champion and went to school. But I cannot even express how much the experience of devoting myself to one discipline helped me later on in my life and career. Peak performance in any area ultimately depends on how you deal with challenge, setbacks, and motivation for the grind.

Don’t settle for being “pretty good”. Push yourself to be the best you can be, you might be surprised what you learn along the way.

[Edit] To the people commenting things like 'I think he is giving "regular" people who arent gifted a path to massive success by being "pretty good" at a few different things':

The whole "regular" people argument is BS. I was a "regular" kid who happened to become freakishly devoted to chess, at which point people started labeling me as a "prodigy". But the label is meaningless. Nobody calling me a prodigy saw the thousands of hours I spent playing and practicing.

I hate it when people draw arbitrary distinctions like "regular" vs "gifted". It makes the so-called gifted ones out to be freaks, or whatever the opposite of "normal" is, and it is demotivating to all the so-called normal kids who wonder if they could ever achieve greatness.


I was pretty good at Chess myself growing up, consistently got trophies in tournaments. Ranked in the top 5 nationally (within the US) for my age group, the trophy I earned for that was bigger than me (I was 12 at the time).

Still though being top 5 in the US for that age group dosent mean very much, the US is one country out of many others. On top of that as you stack against other ages especially say when I became an Adult there is no guarantee I would have even made it to the top 10000, never-mind the top 5, because far more Adults play chess.

I dont think the author is discouraging people from doing that if thats what they are passionate about.

Far more importantly I think he is giving "regular" people who arent gifted a path to massive success by being "pretty good" at a few different things. He is mathematically trying to prove that it will lead to great results, perhaps maybe even better results, than being the absolute best at one thing.

There are diminishing returns to pushing yourself if you arent gifted, you may try your heart out and never ever get to be the very best at Chess. Let's say you hypothetically committed large chunks of your life to it, dont have any other skills, and now are broke and cant live a good meaningful life because you dont earn much for being great at Chess, you only earn if you are the very best.

His path is safer for most of us.


I agree, also this should have been called why to be pretty good at lots of things.


> The only way to get world-class at something is to work your ass off. To have discipline and apply yourself consistently to the practice, day in and day out, for years.

I completely agree with you. I have commented many times on HN about discipline and how much it can change your life (it changed mine). I probably have nowhere near the discipline you have cultivated, but I'm working every day to get better.


Could you share please how you cultivate the discipline, and maybe, books/ podcasts that inspired you?


Absolutely! Let me start by saying that I power lifted for years, but outside of that I was not very disciplined. A couple years ago I came across Jocko Willinks twitter which led me to his podcast. His no nonsense "Extreme Ownership" approach spoke to me. If you want an introduction to him, a good start would be to listen to him on Tim Ferris or Joe Rogans podcast first. His YouTube channel also has a lot of clips. My summary of take aways are:

* Motivation is fleeting, so is something that cannot be relied upon.

* Practice discipline every single day. I have found that discipline builds upon itself. I get up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). I work out every day. It's not even something I think about, it's just what has to be done.

* I get up early, not 4:30 early, but between 5-6am every day (and before all the sleep is required people jump on me, I'm in bed by 9-10pm). It sounds silly, but jumping out of bed ready to go when the alarm goes off is the first discipline win of the day.

It's really just a mindset of doing what you know needs to get done. Whether it's working on something at work or controlling your emotions when someone cuts you off in traffic. There are tons of opportunities every day to practice and help you improve your discipline.

If there was one book that I would pick to read, it would be Musashi. It's probably not the standard book someone would recommend, but it was huge inspiration for me. It is an amazing story with so many lessons on discipline and life.

Finally, not to get too philosophical but I also see many of the same lessons when training Jiu Jitsu. It teaches many things beyond discipline, and is something I recommend to everyone.


Thank you for sharing!

I used to struggle to lose some weight, and was too casual at sport. David Goggins - you can watch him at Joe Rogan and check his book - clicked in me and seemed to have changed my mindset regarding physical activities.

As a result, I managed to keep Paleo diet, and challenge my body and mind with regular long distance running (sweet suffering :) The healthy changes in my weight followed!


Goggins gets flak sometimes for being about all the attention, but who cares. He's inspirational for a lot of people, and I think that's what is important. Good on you for finding your personal inspiration and making the changes you wanted to make!

You say sweet suffering, and you're right. Embrace the suffering and life just gets...better. From Musashi,

“If you can bear up under hardship, you can experience a pleasure greater than the pain,” Musashi said solemnly. “Day and night, hour by hour, people are buffeted by waves of pain and pleasure, one after the other. If they try to experience only pleasure, they cease to be truly alive. Then the pleasure evaporates.”


I don't think the original article was about not giving the best to achieve things, but more about diversifying skills to achieve a reasonably high level more efficiently compared to focusing on one skill.


Can you even force something like that on yourself? From what I saw in the documentary about Magnus, he just loved it. He seemed uncontrollably driven toward it.

What you're saying sounds like you'd have to force yourself to endure the training, but you'd have to force Magnus to stop playing chess.


No, you can’t force it. I genuinely loved chess, and it was still grueling. If I didn’t love it there’s no way I would have put myself through that.


Actually I'm wondering maybe the striving to best mentality is also in the genetics or early education. But I do agree that this mentality helps tremendously.


I'm not going to lie, my parents pushed me really hard, which helps develop the mentality. (Probably too hard, but that's a different story)

But the great thing about the "striving to be best" mentality is you don't need anyone else to give it to you, and if you didn't get it as a kid it's never too late to start. You just need to be passionate about something and then be crazy enough to see how far you can go with it.


I agree with you. My parents also pushed very hard for me playing piano and I gained skills quickly. However I never really had a lot of interest in it so forgot most of it in recent years.

I don't have the mental power to be crazy, but you are right.


> I don’t have the mental power to be crazy

Wait, what? I was clearly using crazy in the Steve Jobs “here’s to the crazy ones” sense. You appear to be implying that unlike you, I do have the mental power to be crazy in the mentally ill sense. That seems slightly unwarranted.


No I mean the good kind of crazy hah


Quick example of skill stacking: You won't be the world's best chess player or boxer, but, hey, being the world champion in chess boxing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_boxing)? That may well be within you reach.


This is gimmicky. Everyone knows they can be the best in the world at some random and obscure task nobody cares about. This sort of thing is a complete waste of your time. Better to focus on improving at one or the other.


Although I agree with the idea, getting good at a jack of trades might be equally difficult (e.g. depending on childhood influences or genetics). If A complements B and someone gets good at A, he/she probably HATES B to the point to avoid it as much as possible.


Another person in this thread pointed out that "skill stacking" boils down to becoming good at two skills, "X + marketing".

I think that's a good example of "Good at A + hates B", say "Good at software engineering + hates marketing".

But what are the other "Good at A + hates B" skill combinations?


Good tech skills plus hate human interation. Or vice versa. Some people just have the innate to get good at both. I think if you want you can definitely train very hard to be OK for sth you hate but is it worth it?


I think whether it's worth it depends on if the goal you are trying to achieve is worth it.

I remember reading about this couple of I believe software engineers who achieved financial independence at I think age 30.

If I recall correctly, she didn't have any natural aptitude for software engineering, she struggled to keep up with her classmates, she didn't enjoy her work, etc.

Still, she got her degree, got a job, made six figure salary, and retired at 30.

From what I understand, for her it was worth it.


I agree 100%. It depends on personal goals.

Another thing is we can train skill B by using a method that we enjoy, to remove half of the pain.


Author of the article gives one TedX talk, then goes on to proclaim that he's an "expert" at public speaking and ranks himself in the "90" percentile for public speaking. What a joke!


Probably over half the population actively dislikes public speaking, so top 10% isn't so hard to reach.


Fear of public speaking is consistently ranked the #1 fear of the average person. I would absolutely put someone who can do it confidently in the top 10%. That's the point of the article: "A bit of work can quickly get you to the top 10%".


Yep, I wish this clickbait wasn't posted on HN...


It has to be said that Steve Jobs great quality was learning from the best in a given field, what it is called now "modeling".

He had as a mentor, when he was kid, f*cking Robert Noyce: http://online.wsj.com/media/NoyceJobs_digits_D_2011100715195...

Noyce himself was a genius on its own.

And then Markkula, and then the president of Sony(that launched the Trinitron and walkman), and so on.

He learned how to learn.


Actually, getting to 90-th percentile of public speaking and self-presentation make you little bit of celebrity regardless of any other factors.


This should be taken to heart by every technologist, or to be precise, pure technologist. Being pure tech today is about as useful as being a typist during the type-writer era i.e. specialized skill that is in demand, but by itself (with few exceptions) is only secondary to the domain it is applied in.

Most so-called "tech" companies are not really tech, but more in (tele)communications, media, advertising, surveillance data businesses.

It is easy to see the time when everyone can do technology. This surely happened to typing, it would be ludicrous trying to get a job as a typist today. Same can happen to the pure tech: a) due to technology itself e.g. web-site builders, etc. b) education,- everybody learns to type today, its a bit of a stretch, but maybe everybody can learn to program.

Aside from job security argument, the value creation is happening in the domain where business is focused, not necessarily knowledge of technology. Technologists who understand the domain can deliver much more value, and command higher premiums.


This seems kind of pointless, most people already are the best in the world at some specific combination of skills - knowledge of local geography, ability to cook a certain set of meals, etc.

Anyway, a related thought that I find interesting: Becoming a "polymath" i.e. learning a wide range of topics to reasonable depth requires less effort than most people expect. For example, let's say you want to learn mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and economics. I think that achieving 80% of undergrad knowledge would take much less than 80% of the time that people need to complete an undergrad degree. So let's say it could take a year to acquire a good foundation in each of these topics if you try to optimize the process by focusing on fundamentals and core principles, choosing the best books, etc.


I don’t know if Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, was the first person to really write about this concept, but he originally wrote about the concept he called the “talent stack” with the same exact arguments in his books years ago. I think this idea is really important: it’s smart to combine different skills. Additionally, having experience in different domains like economics and design and business and technology and more gives you a lens to see the world through that not everybody has. If you combine a few of these lenses, you’re able to make connections and understand things that most people wouldn’t see.


It's pretty simple

Don't be the first at what you're doing. You need the accomplishments of others to build on.

Have competition. You need to have someone else to keep your skills developing.

Have a supernatural amount of talent. It takes an amount of innate skill to truly be the best at something.

Spend WAY more than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

A good example is Feliks Zemdegs, the on-and-off Rubik's cube world champion. He's got the above skills, and keeps getting overtaken by various people, but so far, has redefined his skillset every time and risen back to the top, breaking even more barriers.


Isn’t it strange that comments on medium are all very positive whereas on HN all are very negative towards this article. What I want to say is that there might be a bias?


Author here. It's the culture of the site. Like Reddit. Much more critical. Also, remember that Medium is the platform where the writer writes. Commentators mean in fact to address the author. That helps for civility.


"I'm the best in the world at something. I guess I'll write a Medium article."


This. I'm pretty annoyed with these Medium articles that keep popping up on this site.


Interesting way to discover the curse of dimensionality.


the graphs in this medium post make my head spin, but at least the 2nd one has words describing what the author purportedly means.


Thank you. They're staggeringly bad. I'm surprised no one else commented.


Beware of low perskill grade, stacking would just be a new word for 'jack of all trades'


many managers and directors at tech companies are like this, they have good skill at coding/understanding tech stacks, managing, marketing, writing, speaking, and understanding the business aspects


Selling it helps too.


looks like market segmentation - finding your niche.

find your niche by being top 10% in three areas and you will be top .1% in one niche that is combination of the three


Is this why we go to colleges?


I'm pretty sure I'm the best person in the world at combined Scrabble and coding.


Have you met Liam Quin?


Medium forces a login. Is there a non-Medium link?



I always just click the X in the corner of the popup. Does that only work because I have uBlock Origin, or only on desktop?


Opening an incognito window (still) works.


Why is it acceptable to submit an article which is selectively inaccessible to the majority of users?

All I see is:

How to Become the Best in the World at Something With skill stacking, you don’t need to be at the top to be extraordinary Tomas Pueyo Oct 17 · 7 min read

It’s better to have three okay tools than a single, perfect one. The axe is great at breaking obstacles, but not that useful to jump over pits. The grapple is great to jump over ice or pits, but not amazing for slaying dragons. The only way to win is by having both tools. Illustrations: Tomas Pueyo.

CConsider what it takes to become an NBA player. Most of them have been honing their skills on the basketball court practically since infancy. Years of countless practices, camps, and games have helped each player develop a skill set based around shooting…

Keep the story going. Sign up for an extra free read. You've completed your member preview for this month, but when you sign up for a free Medium account, you get one more story.

Flagged.


The article is accessible, but you've chosen not to access it.


Author here. You can read it free here: https://forge.medium.com/how-to-become-the-best-in-the-world...

I'm ambivalent about Medium's approach. All in all, I do think that you get what you pay for. FB's negative impact is due to their ad monetization strategy. Medium is trying to charge through subscriptions vs advertising, and pays according to time reading vs. impressions, so is much more aligned with readers than non-subscription media.


Yeah sorry, Medium has become somewhat like The New York Times in that nonmembers only get a certain number of free views of these “Partner” posts per month; it sounds like you have run into that particular paywall whereas I think most of the other readers have not (otherwise I'm not sure how this was as successful as it is).

With that said, NYT articles routinely trend on Hacker News so I guess that your proposed policy of no-paywalls is probably not going to be implemented on HN any time soon?


I rarely get caught up on pay walls.

Firefox with Ublock origin + Decentraleyes + NoScrypt + Cookie AutoDelete


Non paywall link: https://outline.com/sRfTa9

But, FWIW, I do agree with you. Medium is the worst. Thankfully services like Outline are available to get around all that.


I've been using an extension to avoid this common annoyance.

https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-firefox

also for Chrome: https://github.com/iamadamdev/bypass-paywalls-chrome


I use neither Chrome nor Firefox, nor am I installing extra software to access a website that doesn't want me.


This is really incorrect advice in the world of software engineering. At least in FAANG companies and big name startups, no one cares if you read How to Win Friends and Influence people and have "social skills". If you can't pass the engineering interviews, you're fucked.


Where I work, leadership and people skills are severely lacking amongst programmers, so just a modicum of both makes one stand out pretty easily.


This is only true to a point. You have to be in the better half of the technical skill set, but in the higher levels of technical roles leadership skills are stressed more than technical skills.

Senior and staff roles stress proposing/completing large projects and working with others to get it done. Its hard to move to these levels without the skills that enable you to work with others.




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