How many lawyers do you know who can develop complex digital applications? How many doctors do you know who are also legal experts?

Both aren’t particularly generalist careers and at the same time, they aren’t super specialised. If you’re a Programming Doctor, the likelihood is you probably aren’t the best clinician as a result of the split in your commitments. But you are one of the best programming doctors because there are collectively so few of them.

I’m going to distil some insight on how to become a specialised generalist and level up your career potential by following these three simple principles:

  1. Find your Archimedes lever.
  2. Pick an add-on.
  3. Win even if you fail.

This week’s post is heavily inspired by Dilbert’s blog on career advice and a chat I had with Ali Abdaal some time ago.

1. Find your Archimedes Lever

In this well-cited and documented blog article, Scott Adams says the following:

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.
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.

Follow path 1 - To be the next Premier League player you’ll need to be in the top 0.012% of your cohort (I did my research - and that’s only if you enter an academy at the age of nine). Now, of course, you don’t have to play in the PL to earn a sufficient income to sustain a living, but you’d still have to be fantastic at the sport.

Follow path 2 - On the other hand, if you combine two valuable skills, that alone are reasonably sufficient to provide a meaningful income source (e.g. doctor, lawyer, designer, programmer, etc.), but when combined fruit a much more valuable and rare combination - then that’s your Archimedes lever.

In my case, I’m a medical student but I also dabble in design work and basic web development. I also know a decent amount about startups and I’m fairly clued up on digital marketing. I could very easily work on being in the top 25% of two of these things. But, could I be the best doctor in the world? Realistically, no.

2. Pick an add-on

Now, I’m going to refer to a great inspiration to myself and many others. Warren Buffet is famously equated to his investment success but what’s less commonly appreciated is his command for spoken and written communication.

This brings me to my next point of add-ons, much like a video game you can boost your potential/credibility by developing a powerful add-on. I’ve listed three that I’ve borrowed from Tim Ferriss who considers these to be instant multipliers to one’s career potential:

  1. Written Communication
  2. Public Speaking
  3. Negotiating Skills

Example of putting this into action:

You’re a lawyer and you have over the years developed a strong grasp for machine learning and now have formed your Archimedes lever - that being you’re one of few lawyers that can leverage ML expertise to advance the practice of law.
But you are a poor communicator (would be a bit awks if you’ve qualified as a lawyer with poor communication skills but let’s just keep going for example sake).
You’ll have no means to form a competitive advantage.
However, let’s say you’ve worked on your public speaking by delivering high quality seminars (or Zoom Webinars in 2020) and you’ve gained a following of people in the process that trust your acumen.
Then boom you’ve multiplied your career potential with this add-on.

This way you aren't dabbling in a million things and never going further than a mile deep in each one of them. But you are putting yourself across 2 worthy skills and then boosting your potential with an add-on to effectively become the NBA equivalent performer in your niche. Key, however, is to pick high-demand, high-value skills.

3. Win even if you fail

Choose your projects based on the skills and relationships you will develop that will transcend past the experience whether it ends up a success or failure. Here I am mainly talking about how to place yourself in the top decile for your particular niche by putting yourself out there and gaining a level of credibility/authority.

This is exactly what I’ve done by starting these regular posts:

  • Success - awesome I get to share my insights with a bunch of people that gain some value on a weekly basis.
  • Failure - awesome I’ve learnt how to write better and how to market/sell my own ideas to others.

You get the point. Both the written communication and self-marketing skills that one would gain from the process of regular writing will trickle down into one’s ultimate effort to develop a successful specialised generalist career.

Summary

Find your Archimedes Lever. Pick an add-on. Turbo-charge your worth.

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of risk-taking, get some qualifications, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, find your Archimedes lever and leverage your add-on skills to market yourself as a person with high-demand, high-value skills.


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