T-shaped people take part. Trident people take over 🔱
T-shaped skillsets are well known. Quite simply it is where you master one skill deeply while maintaining a basic capability across a wider set of skills.
There is a lot of value in building a T-shape skillset, it is certainly better than being a specialist in one thing only.
However, the most successful people have something else: a Trident skillset.
Being in the top 1% is almost impossible
Look at the diagram below.
To be the best in the world at any skill is extremely rare and borderline impossible. The amount of work and dedication required is phenomenal. At this level, exponential effort is required to obtain even the smallest incremental gain.
Only the world’s most naturally talented and hardest working will arrive at the 1% level.
Betting your life on being in the top 1% might be admirable, but it’s not statistically smart.
Being in the top 10% is much easier
Now look at the green section of the above diagram. The required effort to be in the top 10% is much easier and would be a much more reasonable goal to aim for.
Being in the top 10% is awesome, you enjoy significant upside. You’ll likely garner a good salary, have a happy life, and be well respected.
The simple fact that 90% of people don’t even try means that if you’re willing to put just a little bit of effort in, you’ll be successful. As one of my favorite sayings goes:
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard
T-shaped people are valuable, but not hard to come by. There won’t be a huge premium paid for them, but they can live a comfortable life.
However, if greatness is what you’re looking for, you’ll need a Trident 🔱.
Being the top 10% in a combination of 2–3 skills
Being in the top 10% in a combination of 2–3 skills is far easier to achieve than being in the top 1% in one specific skill.
It may be easier, but it’s still rare.
Fortunately for you, it’s rare because of other people’s choices and not because of the work required to obtain them.
I call this unique combination of skills a ‘Trident skillset’ because of the shape it creates when you get to the top 10% in 3 separate skills.
As we discovered earlier, getting to the top 10% is not too difficult. The ability to get to the top 10% in two or three separate skills is only slightly more difficult but overall still doable.
It’s powerful because the total number of people who have a combination of these skills falls dramatically, while the ability to acquire semi-mastery in each one is relatively easy.
Top 1% of basketball players = 10 peopleNumber of people in the top 10% of entrepreneurship, public speaking, and design = 10 people
The number of people to compete with is equal, but the level of competition in each skill is much lower.
Your strength is the combination.
Aim for skills that don’t overlap
If two skills overlap significantly, there are more people who can perform them, thus making it harder to stand out. This would be the equivalent of a really good accountant being really good at statistics also.
Avoid two closely linked skills.
Choose a combination of complimentary but loosely overlapping skills
The further apart your skillsets are from each other the rarer the combination will be.
Let’s view the above skill stack from a bird’s eye view. You can see below that the darker blue area is where our skills overlap, each individual skill is not hard to master but the combination is what makes it rare.
Michael Jordan is in the top 1% of his chosen skill (basketball). Sitting proudly at the top of the red zone, his net worth is over $1bn. Clearly achieving 1% stardom is profitable, it’s just really really hard.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at another sports superstar, Conor McGregor. Conor’s skillset is arguably lower. Perhaps sitting more in the orange zone.
Conor is not the highest-ranked fighter in the world, in fact, he’s ranked number #15. He’s also lost 5 out 27 of his professional fights.
Jon Jones is ranked as the number #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and argued to be the greatest of all time. He has a record of 26 wins and 1 loss (his only loss was a disqualification so not really a loss either).
Conor is the richest man in UFC history, but it’s not because of his fighting skills. He is the richest man in UFC history because he is in the top 10% of a combination of three distinctly separate skills:
Conor is pretty good at fighting, but he’s not the top 1%.
Conor is also a pretty good showman and known as the king of trash talk (as seen by one of my favorite post-fight interviews below). Many fighters don’t prioritize showmanship, but Conor’s brash style has paid off and earned him a mega-following.
Conor is also pretty good at making whisky. But judging by the customer reviews, The whisky is not that good either!
Proper Twelve Irish Whisky Review
In each individual skill Conor is not the greatest.
But when you put them all together?
You get a net worth of $110M and one of the world’s most popular sportsmen.
Because it’s a rare combination.
In short, you want skills that are leveraged.
Naval Ravikant has a great piece talking about leverage which you can read more on here.
Naval explains that historically we have only really had two types of leverage:
But money is hard to come by, and labor requires you to pay for wages or people being willing enough to follow you (like a popular politician).
Naval explains, however, that there are two new forms of leverage:
Code and media leverage are especially powerful because they are free, and are permissionless (unlike a banker to approve your loan, no one stops you from learning to code).
Anyone can learn to code, and anyone made youtube videos and reach millions of people.
Conor McGregor has built skills in two areas of leverage: money (using his whisky business to grow his capital) and media (using his showmanship to increase his audience reach and influence). Both are supported by a fundamental core strength, fighting.
In 2021, the best skills for you to invest in are leveraged ones.
Core skill + leveraged skill + leveraged skill = unstoppable force
Aiming for the top 1% in any field is futile.
It’s far better to be in the top 10% of 2–3 skills and combine them. You have a similar rarity to the top 1%, thus there is little competition. Any competition you do have, is easier to beat and the potential rewards can be huge.
Now you know about Trident skills, what skillset will you take over the world with?
Get free access to a curation of all my favorite, articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other resources linked to GTM Design and scaling startups.