Sep 3, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Another very insightful piece, Tomás; thank you. It is going straight to my 14 year old daughter who, in her first high school year, is currently struggling with a lot of these issues.

I am surprised you did not mention languages, though. I know you speak three, at least. Being fluent in several languages gives you not only more possibilities of communicating, but also a deeper understanding of how different people think, and how their thinking differs, and thus of adapting your messages to different publics.

Knowing different languages is closely related to understanding cultures. If the US lost the war in Afghanistan (as did previously the USSR, and the UK), it is mostly because they were not "culture literate," to say it some way, in Afghan culture. Being able to understand and adapt to different cultures is a skill that can be paired to amplify any other you might have.

Secondly, as a woman, while reading your piece, I kept thinking: "In a way, he is talking about what we know as 'multitasking'." Women are excellent at being good in different domains, because we are always multitasking. From cooking (which is chemistry and physics), to psychology (children), to running a home (management). I suspect many women have known this all along. You just have presented it in an academic format (I guess these are your storytelling skills at work).

It is said that Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (a Mexican nun, and a genius of the 17th century) once remarked: "If Aristotle had known how to cook, he would have discovered many more things than he did."

So yes, having different 'niches' definitively takes you to the next level. Wanting to be No. 1 carries a lot of frustration. Wanting to be better every day is probably more rewarding.

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Your post today resonates deeply, for me, with something I've been thinking about for many years. There's a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox", whose point is that one of the most profound differences that divide human beings is between foxes and hedgehogs. It all starts with an obscure fragment by a Greek poet, Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing". The poet seems sympathetic with the hedgehog: imagine a fox meaning to kill and eat a hedgehog. She tries many different strategies, but every time the hedgehog rolls up in a ball of spikes, and the fox is frustrated.

Berlin doesn't take sides but classifies writers and thinkers according to this criterion. By instinct, I take sides with the foxes. I think I am a fox myself. Maybe not a very clever one, but a fox nevertheless.

It seems to me that from your angle, foxes have a significant advantage over hedgehogs. What's your opinion?

For completeness, below you find a lengthy quotation from Berlin's essay:

"There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’ Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog’s one defence. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle. These last lead lives, perform acts and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal; their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce are foxes.

Of course, like all over-simple classifications of this type, the dichotomy becomes, if pressed, artificial, scholastic and ultimately absurd. But if it is not an aid to serious criticism, neither should it be rejected as being merely superficial or frivolous: like all distinctions which embody any degree of truth, it offers a point of view from which to look and compare, a starting-point for genuine investigation."

Isaiah Berlin. The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History. Princeton University Press.

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Great post, again. I can't stop recommending you the David Epstein's book, 'Range', which talks about this breadth of knowledge, even if he doesn't expand on domain selection. If you don't take the time –I suspect you are a busy man– to read it, maybe you can "blinkist" it.

The main idea is to be generalist in a world in which everyone tries to spezialize further and further, and how this kind of profiles can be not only as much, but even more succesfull in several kinds of disciplines and organizations. When you mention it is a matter of “Jack of Some Trades, Master of One”, this is actually backed by some research and there is a word for it.

They are called 'polymaths', or generalists with at least one area of expertise. This kind of profile is, Epstein explains, more succesful because they can transfer knowledge from one domain to others. As you showed, they only lose little of their depth (narrow expertise), by using their finite time more efficiently in exchange for breadth in several other areas. Also, as your coronavirus series are living proof, this is getting more and more relevant because, again, of the internet: "Communication technology has limited the number of hyperspecialists required to work on a particular narrow problem, because their breakthroughs can be communicted quickly and widely to others".

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Sep 2, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

I first read about skill stacking in Scott Adam's book "How I failed at almost everything and still won big". Enjoyed reading it again in your words. I wonder if people consciously build such skill stacks or just discover them upon reflection - correlation, causation and all that. It can feel quite isolating when you try to build this stack - nobody around you seems to get it, including at times you yourself !

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Sep 5, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

In sports, there is an Olympic event that is specifically designed to reward skill stacking – the Modern Pentathlon. A pentathlete has to be successful at five different sports: shooting, fencing, swimming, riding, and running. Setting aside the question of practice time for five completely different, generally uncorrelated skills, it’s generally the case that successful competitors are pretty good at each of the things, without necessarily being the best, although the scoring sometimes subverts that.

In shooting and riding, for example, there is a maximum possible score, and you lose points depending on how many targets you miss or times the horse refuses a jump. In swimming and running, the margin of your speed beyond a predefined threshold increases the number of awarded points. Fencing is done with the epée, to one touch, simultaneous touches count for neither fencer, and each athlete fences all the others, so scoring is based on the percentage of victories.

The format has changed over the years (as have the distances for the run and swim), but in the 90s, the Olympics shifted to a one-day format, and the final event, the run, had a staggered start based on how many points the athlete had earned in the previous four events. The result was that if you crossed the finish line first, you’d win the whole thing rather than just the running stage. This was particularly dramatic in the 2000 Olympics when the first place going into the run was held by American Emily deRiel, who was edged out for the gold by the eighth place holder, Stephanie Cook, of the UK.

Olympic medals are thought of as being the province of the outliers – the people who are the very best in the world at doing one specific thing. In Modern Pentathlon, on the other hand, you can win with 5:30 mile paces and 1 minute 100 yard swim. Those are times you can see at high school track and swim meets in the US. But if you can shoot, ride, and fence as well, you can be competitive in an event that has been held at every Olympics in the modern era.

Modern Pentathlon is the sport for the skill stackers.

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Sep 3, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Great article Tomas. I add to it an all-important feature in Life which is Risk. Betting all your odds to be in the TOP 1% implies not only a lot of effort but it conveys a LOT of risk. Think about being a Cavalryman in the 1900's spending all your time to be at the top of your military. You win prizes in competitions and are acknowledged by everyone. But then the automobile engine is invented, the whole warfare tactics changes and you are out of the job. What about your colleagues who just came to be in the top 10% but decided to learn strategies and go along with the technical improvements? As you are consuming your time being in the top 1%, you can´t afford to read too many books or analyzing tactics besides cavalry. Moreover, because you are in the top 1% you disregard everything less considering it worthless. It's the seed for your doom. Not only managing several skills will lead you to become the best at something but is also more robust. One of your skills may be outdated, but it's not the only egg in your basket.

Media and attention are frequently focused on experts, but very few can keep the attention in the long term. You may keep being the top 1% expert in a field (which is very difficult considering the new competition the years will bring and your own aging) but because the skill may lose its value over time.

PD: I'm looking forward to reading your insights on communication!

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Sep 17, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Y por fin... dieciséis días después puedo leer este artículo (email) que llegó el día de mi cumpleaños y que dejé marcado en bold porque no quería perdérmelo! Masterpiece, amigo Tomás... como cada cosa que escribes! Todo en tus artículos "seems well planned" así como también transmites la sensación de que tu escritura y tus pensamientos se unen y fluyen de una manera muy natural y absolutamente didáctica... Gracias!! Eso es un skill o un gift, qué opinas? ;)

Un abrazo desde Ibiza de una argentina que te descubrió gracias a su hermano que vive en la Patagonia le recomendó tu artículo TH&TD.

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Sep 4, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

I shared your first covid article with the introductory comment, "Finally! Information!" I'm a retired technical writer, and I know information when I see it. You've upped everyone's game: it's now commonplace for journalists to pepper their articles with graphs and charts.

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At the risk of some self-indulgence, I offer a few comments:

I have struggled with this concept my entire life. But to see it laid out graphically was quite inspiring.

Thank you Tomas, once again, for sharing an enlightening Story.

I have always visualized my path through life as a broad front moving frustratingly, slowly forward, rather than a sharp wedge forcefully advancing towards one goal. At times this can be depressing because I know that as a “Jack of All Trades”, I will never be a “Master” of one.

But as you suggest, having a varied skill set allows you to interact effectively at the interface of several fields. You not only bring varied knowledge to bear on a particular task, but you may also be able to effectively work with experts in other fields. In academia, I learned the value of collaborating with people who had a complementary skill, thus “stacking” skill sets to address a particular research problem. Because I was the “crazy one” who saw things differently, I could be effective even though I was far from the smartest or most skilled in the group.

I know personally that I am unable to be the “best” at anything. That is not my way. The idea of focussing all my efforts on one task is inconceivable to me. In jest, I lament to others that I have the worst case of ADHD in the world. But I have learned not only to be proud of that, but to delight in pointing out to those who misguidedly view me as brilliant, that they are looking at one of the least trained physicians in the country, who has failed in nearly every job he has had, who has been dismissed from more jobs than he can recall, who cannot maintain his focus on a task for more than an hour, who constantly gets into trouble, and who has had more than his share of failed relationships. My skill has been to accept and understand my “faults” and to turn them into assets.

I understand about stacking skill sets, and perhaps some readers can use these ideas to consciously develop a set of skills to achieve “success”. However, in my “old age”, I reap satisfaction in having taken my father’s advice to follow my passions with as much enthusiasm as possible. I think that the key to my limited “success” in life is to have been endowed with a modicum of intelligence, and to have relentlessly followed my passions, with an utter disdain for the status quo. I have many passions, and I try to follow each for a number of years until I am satisfied with the level of skill I have attained. Then I lose interest in the thought of climbing that steep yellow and red path beyond the 90% percentile towards the summit.

Sometimes relentlessly following one’s passions can lead to success, as measured by societal standards. But even if that recipe does not bring you “success”, I have found that it usually lead to some measure of happiness and satisfaction. And this is the advice I offer to my children, and others.

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Feb 18Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Un super article! Moi qui complexait de ne jamais faire partie des meilleurs, j'ai peut être un espoir d'arriver à qqch de grandiose un jour.

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Love this piece. Very informative and useful. I realised the importance of multi disciplinary skills and its unique advantages intuitively as I was cruising through my first job as a programmer in an eLearning services company couple decades back. eLearning services require distinct skills in content writing, graphic design, and programming. Add to that other business skills, one could start an eLearning services company with very little competition since many people are not able to acquire such distinct skill. I just did that myself and bootstrapped, grew, and sold a successful eLearning company and it was relatively easy journey compared to say software services company which doesn't have such distinct areas.

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Sep 14, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Thank you for this lovely piece! I particularly appreciated the vulnerability in sharing the essay from 12 years ago. This is the key piece that helps the reader empathize with you and see the stacking as a journey, and not about how they doesn't quite measure up. Nice job stacking your skills enough to articulate this!

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Sep 13, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Thank Tomas for this amazing article! I enjoy your writing as well as your beautiful graphics. I believe you have very rare combination of skills. How did you develop and hone your design skills? Also, how did you create such nice graphics in this article? Thank you for sharing your insights.

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Sep 12, 2021Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Thanks Tomas for this article. As an Engineer myself with an ease for public speaking and my friends recommending that I should do more politics, this article is spot on and landed in my inbox at a crucial time in terms of "what should I do in my next 3 to 5 years". Keep going, you're excellent.

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Incredible article! It can't be denied that education systems should endorse these kinds of ideas. I would've liked to discover this concept when I was a teenager and chose my professional path.

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Great one! I'm also trying to build my skill sets in the same fashion!

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