“Competition is for losers.” —Peter Thiel
In his book coauthored with Blake Masters, the serial entrepreneur, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel makes the point that entrepreneurs need to create businesses where there is no competition and that they should always aim to be a monopoly.
It was a brilliant performance in the movie “Margin Call,” by the legendary actor Jeremy Irons when he told a boardroom full of his top executives: “There are three ways to make a living in this business: Be first, be smarter, or cheat, and I don’t cheat.”
The goal of designing an extraordinary life is to become a category of one in your field of choice. Your aim must be to become completely irreplaceable, invaluable, and unfuckwithable.
You don’t just rise within an established hierarchy of cookie-cutter lookalikes who are doing the same things, following the same old ways, and fighting amongst one another. It doesn’t matter if the fight is over market shares, attention, followers, likes, shares, praise, earnings, or promotions.
You create your own niche in this world by doubling down and tripling down on your quirks, idiosyncrasies, obsessions, interests, skills, training, unique abilities, talents, experiences, background, and position in the world.
You play to your strengths and stack them atop one another to create a force multiplier that can indeed expedite your results and maximize the impact of your efforts.
The famous cartoonist Scott Adams is responsible for the Dilbert brand of comic strips. He is considered a category of one and that is because he is the product. His character, his creativity, his sense of humor, the way he sees the world, and his drawing skills all mesh up with his background, his education, and his experience in the corporate world to create a uniquely uncontested monopoly over a highly valuable creative product.
He actually explained how he accomplished all of this in his best-selling book “How to Fail at Almost Everything, and Still Win Big.” He calls it building your talent stack.
Adams elaborates on this idea of doubling down on his interests even though he’s probably not the funniest person or the best cartoonist, but he’s probably 80% good at both of those skills. He combined them with a corporate environment and started drawing his little cartoon strip.
Emboldened by great feedback, he started exploring options to capitalize on his talents and applied for cartoonist positions in known publications. After some failures, giving up, and then trying again, he got his shot and was picked up by a major comic strip publisher. The rest is history.
Scott Adams is now a brand in and of himself. And he got there by scratching his own itch, following his own interests, and finding an outlet for his talents to create something that has never been done before. A category of one. A monopoly.
Naval Ravikant the founder of AngelList, who has plenty of musings on Twitter about wealth creation and philosophy, also has plenty to say about building a personal brand. He talks about it extensively on Twitter, in his podcast interviews, and his book the “Navalmanac.” He has another name for the “talent stack” concept; he calls it specific knowledge.
Specific knowledge is a combination of background, education, acquired knowledge, personal hobbies, and interests that no one can do in that specific way except you. A true product of obsession. Something that from the outside looking in it sure looks like a lot of hard work, but to you, it’s only fun and play.
It’s something that no one can be trained to do. The secret is your unique style. No one will ever see the world and interact with it the same way you do.
No one can be trained to be you. Nobody can be trained to be anybody else. You can replicate skills, tools, and machines, but you can’t replicate character.
When there’s a lot of the same thing around, competition becomes about space, much like a bunch of insignificant nails in a small bucket. But you never disregard or misplace something with real value. You always know where you can find the hammer.
This is why being one of the faceless many devoids you of value, and this is why competition is for losers.
The only way you can train specific knowledge is through an apprenticeship. A lifelong mentoring and guidance that basically saves you the time of making all the obvious mistakes on your own.
Unless, of course, you’re training to be a Samurai swordsman, you have to go about plowing your own path. This is how you find and occupy your niche in the world and how you build something that no one else can compete with.
“You can escape competition through authenticity when you realize that no one can compete with you on being you. That would have been useless advice pre-internet. Post-internet, you can turn that into a career.” —Naval Ravikant
It takes some time to establish a name for yourself. It also comes with a great deal of accountability and significant risk. Most people who have such a place in the world have plenty hanging on their reputation and they are immediately recognizable by their singular names like Elon, Oprah, Trump, etc. It took them years to get there.
The truth is no one can tell you when it’s going to happen for you. As long as you’re on the path, developing the necessary skills, pursuing mastery, discovering all of your interests and applying them to opportunities, keeping an open mind, and building the necessary systems and habits for success, you’ll get there eventually.
Skills and mastery compound over time. It follows the compounding interest graph, you know, the one everyone in the tech world talks about: the hokey stick. It stays almost flat for a very long time as the compounding effect is influencing small quantities, but over a long enough time, that progress takes off, literally exponentially. You become an overnight success.
We can’t tell how quickly we can expedite our progress in the coming years. Perhaps what took some people ten years to accomplish can take you five years, or even three, no one knows. It’s a function of your innate abilities, how much time you put in, and the amount of focus pour into your craft.
Stay patient. Don’t get your head all tangled up in knots about the time it’ll take you to establish yourself in the world. Stay focused on the process and enjoy it because that’s the only thing that really matters. The real treasure always is in the journey itself.
And no matter what you do, never trap yourself by projecting doing it in say ten years, because then it can really take you ten years, and then you’re screwed. According to Parkinson’s law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
If you have to set a time frame at all, make it unrealistically short instead. That way, you’ll work your ass off to try to make it all happen in six months. And if by any chance you’re past your deadline, you’re not really that upset because you were overly optimistic to begin with. It helps with speed and managing expectations.
Embrace whatever makes you special in the world. And remember nothing ever goes to waste.
Every place you went to counts. Everyone you met counts. Those who loved you and those who hated you count. The jobs you loved and the ones you hated count. Your triumphs, your failures, your irreversible mistakes, they all count.
No one before you could have become you, and no one else will ever be you. You are your greatest asset and it’s more valuable than you can ever fathom.
Go make a ruckus.
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