Skill stacking

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote about how to reach the top:

If you want to be extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become good (top 25%) at two or more things.

Scott Adams (source)

Number one, he says, is as good as impossible but number two is easy.

It’s called Skill Stacking. I went down the rabbit hole and found this excellent post with this image:

See that little fella in the middle there? That’s the sweet spot.

I will never be the best in the world at running or programming or writing or agile process. But I can be in the top 25% of each. If I can find a way to combine two or more of them, then I can be the best at that combination.

I could build an audiobook reader app specifically for runners. I could create a niche blog for programmers who run. I could apply for Strava’s engineering team. I could write a book on how to apply agile principles to running.

Here’s another example, plucked from a random Hacker News comment:

I learned this lesson from Clifford Stoll. He said that astronomers figure he must be an exceptional programmer, since he’s clearly a mediocre astronomer. While programmers figure he must be an exceptional astronomer, since his programming is strictly middle-of-the-road!

samatman on HN

Of course, there are different types of skills. You’ll have trouble combining some skills, but others are universal. Public speaking, writing, marketing, programming, charisma; these can stack with almost anything. Scott Adams says this about public speaking:

I always advise young people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who have only one skill.

Scott Adams

It’s a fun thought experiment. List the things you’re pretty good at, and brainstorm ways to combine 2 or more of them. What do you come up with?


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