Find a scalable profession.
While re-reading the The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb I came across the idea of scalable professions. These are professions where you can add zeros on your productivity and income without adding zeros onto your hours worked. By adopting a profession of this sort, you decouple your hours worked and income.
Deploying capital in a way that allows your money to work for you instead of the other way around will give you more freedom to pursue your interests. If you’re like me, you’re interested in all aspects of life, not just your chosen profession. Instead of working for a living, you can work to internally resolve how you view the world around you. Ray Dalio, a famous hedge fund manager, attributes his success to developing an understanding of how the world works and how you can fit in to solve the world’s problems. If you’re solving everyone else’s problems, how can you find out what problems you care about, personally? Passion breeds success because you can’t sell something you don’t believe in.
Riskiness of Scalable Professions
It’s hard to predict when you’ll get your break in a scalable profession.
Taleb describes two different distributions of populations: Mediocristan and Extremistan.
Mediocristan distributions are such that the outliers don’t affect the average. Think: Height of Yao Ming vs population; inclusion of a few outliers won’t change given a moderate population size because the numbers are subject to mean reversion.
Extremistan distributions are heavily influenced by one or several members of the population. Think: Books sales (J.K. Rowling vs Average), Incomes (Warren Buffet vs Average).
Extremistan professions are more subject to accidents or black swans. As he puts it, they produce a “a very small number of giants and a large number of dwarfs” (p. 29). It’s harder to compete in a scalable profession because of this distribution. Some writers we consider today as wildly successful lived out their lives in poverty, being ahead of their time or before the information could spread like wildfire through the internet or spoken word (telephones).
In Chapter 3, Taleb goes on to explain these professions are subject to Black Swans:
Matters that being to the Extremistan…: wealth, income, book sales per author, book citations per author, name recognition as a celebrity, number of references on Google, populations of cities, uses of words in a vocabulary, numbers of speakers per language, damage caused by earthquakes, deaths in war,… size of planets, sizes of companies, height between species, financial markets, commodity prices, inflation rates, economic data.
Extremistan distributions are subject to a high level of risk. Remember: more risk, more reward. Once society gets a hold of an idea, it could spread quickly. As long as you continue to produce at a high level, you made it. Serial inventors may never find an invention that catches on, and others hit it in the first try.
Don’t give up.
How do you make yourself scalable? Think, “what doesn’t exist that should?” It doesn’t have to be ground shaking, just what you are passionate about. You have to know yourself before you can make your ideas scalable.
People want what works, but ideas are sticky. Once a popular company or group of people get a hold of a revolutionary idea, there’s no stopping it. There are countless examples in Taleb’s text.
Keep working. Those who deserve it will be rewarded in a capitalistic economy. Hustle and people will respond. Make mistakes, you get stronger because of it.
Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough. – Mark Zuckerberg.
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!