Ponds and Stacks

More and more people are interested in finding careers that don’t resemble traditional employment. Whether it’s walking away from Big Tech to found a Web3 startup or starting that D2C showerhead company you’ve always dreamed of, it’s all about becoming your own boss.

But what exactly will you do? And how will you stand out?

Find your own pond

Ben Thompson writes about the most popular tech companies that everybody knows about. That’s an extremely competitive pond. Everyone has an opinion on the big tech companies. When he started, Ben saw a gap. Lots of people talked about tech products, lots of people talked about Wall St results, but there was a gap in the middle. Why is this important? It’s exceptionally difficult to generate differentiation on your own. To compete in Ben’s pond would be really hard. Even if you were better at what he does, your voice would be drowned out. You’re better off finding some green space. Or finding your…

Unique strengths

Ben admits he is really fast at reading, writing and has a good memory. This is important because he is leaning hard on those strengths so he can write four articles a week. There’s probably lots of people who look at what Ben does and say, hey all I need to do is write four times a week, easy! The reality is, if you don’t have Ben’s unique strengths, you will struggle with this task. Not only is it pleasurable doing stuff that you are good at, you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Stacking strengths

Bringing these two concepts together is something called talent stacking’ that I believe Scott Adams coined. Let’s say you’ve found a unique area where you are very strong at (eg. Car photography or real estate law). It’s still hard to be the best at it. If you can combine a few strengths, you will naturally create some advantage for yourself. Scott writes: 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.”

Positioning it all together

Jack Trout and Al Ries talk about something similar for brands with their positioning theory. When you are really good in a specific area, you cut through the prospect’s wall of indifference’. This works for Sprite and also for personal careers. Most people aren’t ruthless enough to set up a single concept for themselves. They vacillate. They expect others to do it for them.”I’m the best lawyer in Dallas.” Are you? How often would your name be mentioned if we took a survey of the Dallas legal community? I’m the best lawyer in Dallas” is a position that can be achieved with some talent, some luck, and a lot of strategy. And the first step is to isolate the concept that you are going to use to establish that long-term position. It’s not easy. But the rewards can be great.”

I’m an Australian but I’ve spent a lot of time working in the States. I’m actually a green card holder. That makes my tax situation tricky. I found an accountant who specializes in Australians living in America. He is absolutely top of mind when it comes to that problem. He’s not the best accountant, he’s not the best accountant focused on individual tax returns, but he’s probably one of the best accountants focused on individual tax returns for Australians living and working in America!

Try this. Draw a line. On one end of the line, label it as stuff you are very good at’ (you don’t need to be the best in the world). On the other end, label it stuff I suck at’. Spend some time plotting strengths and see if you can group some together. Maybe you are naturally gifted at public speaking and decently good at javascript. That sort of thing. Once you’ve found some interesting groupings spend some time researching what’s out there. Is anyone playing in that pond?

May 29, 2022