Build an Edge and become Extraordinary by Developing Your Talent Stack

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There are two paths to creating values and becoming extraordinary. The first path is to become a world-class at a specific skill. You become the top 1% in your choosing field. In this path, success comes from developing talent in one skill. This works best in some fields, like in medicine, the natural progression is to pick a specialty. In sports, you train to become the best in your field. You become a Serena Williams, Steven Spielberg, Warren Buffett, J.K. Rowling or Roger Federer. They are all attractive but very unrealistic for the majority of us.

The second path is far more realistic and doable for the majority of us and it is called the Talent Stack. Talent stack is a concept coined by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic. It’s the idea that you can combine normal skills until you have the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together. When all of this experience and skill set comes together, a unique talent stack is developed that makes you a formidable challenger, a necessity and much valuable to the marketplace. The concept of talent stack is everywhere once you learn how to recognise it. Some people tagged it a personal moat and some personal monopoly.

Scott Adams describes his own talent stack in the following terms : “I am a famous syndicated cartoonist who doesn’t have much artistic talent, and I’ve never taken a college-level writing class. But few people are good at both drawing and writing. When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humour, I’m fairly unique. His advice sounds incredibly simple: “Anyone can develop a more valuable talent stack. Just figure out which talents go well together.”

An effective talent stack uses every aspect of your life experience to create something unique and powerful. Instead of becoming world-class at just one skill, you can offer value to the world by identifying the unique set of skills that make you one-of-a-kind.

The key to building your own talent stack is understanding the value of developing individual skill-sets which may be deemed to be of little worth on their own, but when combined, join together to create a sought-after candidate. It is important to remember that you do not need to be experts in each of the skills you are developing as part of your talent stack. The real power of these skills is combining them to form an impressive whole.

Stacking Your Talents What are your unique gifts and talents? What are the top 5? What talent do you need to work on in order to maximise what you already have? How can you combine them to create your talent stack? How can you leverage your talent stack to become a formidable challenger, necessity and much valuable to the marketplace? Clearly articulating this can definitely help you advance your career. I’ve seen it happen over and over again with my career developing modern infrastructure solutions for clients.

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  1. Things we don’t enjoy doing and are not good at. Spend little time and energy here (unless you want to become good at it.)
  2. Things we don’t enjoy doing but are pretty good at. Spend time to audit these to see what can help you with doing what you like.
  3. Things we enjoy doing but are not very good at. Here we can focus some attention on getting better at the skills we like.
  4. Things we enjoy doing and are really good at. This is the basis of your Talent Stack and how you add on to it will be something you will work on for quite a while.

The talent stack you develop should be informed by a few things:

  • Your curiosities - when you’re naturally interested in something, you will spend more time going the extra mile.
  • Your environment - the DNA of your company encodes what it values. To be appreciated, it helps to be at least above average at the most valued dimension, if not world-class. If you work for yourself, this means identifying the most crucial ingredients to succeeding in your domain.
  • What you already have in your stack - you benefit most from developing skills that are rarely found together. A masterful storyteller who understands business principles (like Jeff Bezos) is more valued than a masterful storyteller who writes good copy (these skills are more correlated).
  • What naturally compounds over time - just like compounding interest, you want to invest in skills whose value compounds in your sleep. Writing publicly is a great example of this: your ideas continue to spread at a faster rate.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are skills that are universally useful: writing, design, business principles, data analysis, coding, storytelling. The skills that are most paradoxical and rarely found in the same person include:

  • Design instincts x business principles
  • Design instincts x data analysis
  • Storytelling x coding
  • Storytelling x data analysis
  • Business principles x coding

If you already spike on one of the skills above, pursuing the other half will pay dividends. And when you triple up, you’ll run circles. By becoming more interdisciplinary, you position yourself to connect the dots invisible to others.

So why don’t more people do this? First, the concept of the talent stack is less well-known than it should be. Second, learning different skills is uncomfortable — it’s often hard enough becoming good at one. Third, you probably self-identify with certain skills from an early age, and it hurts to reinvent an image you’ve grown to like. The good news is that all of these hurdles are surmountable.

What I appreciate most about the talent stack is that it opens us to more positive-sum games. Rather than competing head-on and trying to climb one global summit, the talent stack empowers us to be the best version of ourselves. It’s a lesson I wish they taught in school. It is the ultimate escape from competition.

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