Uniqueness, Competition, And Success

Nov 9, 2008   //   by Hackadelic   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Every now and then I stumble upon the assertion that everybody has his special, unique gifts and strengths. Identifying them, and finding a “niche” of own, equals the discovery of a gold mine, and opens the path to a life full of success and self-fulfillment – so at least they always make it sound.

I guess, being unique is generally an attractive thought to most of us, as Penelope points out in her article.

I admit, I find that thought utterly comforting myself. For one thing, it makes me feel special, and gives me hope that, one day, me too will eventually become “rich and famous”. For another, being unique and having a “niche”1 of own has the convenient side effect of removing competition form the equation. Not having competition to mess with is pretty cool. The way to the “top” is much easier when you own a monopoly.

Crystal clear, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, that’s not what this world is like.

For one, the likelihood of being truly unique – in the sense of being able to do something that nearly no one else can – is pretty low.2 The chance of being among the top 5% is extremely small34, and where it is not small, it is pretty crowded5 – meaning there’s much more competition to battle with. As sobering as it is, probability and genetics work the same for everybody.

Second, being a unique talent at something may be a factor to your success, but don’t hold your breath.

Most of the career and life advice you find these days stresses concentration on your strengths, specialization and becoming an “expert” in “your niche”.6 This is a great, constructive thought. But if specialization and uniqueness were enough, and everybody was unique, we would live in a world full of experts.

Obviously, we don’t.

The truth is, it takes more then that. At least, it takes self-recognition (or luck, but that’s harder to control) to find out what your “niche” is. It takes perseverance to go through training efforts and develop skills out of your talents, and it takes perseverance to stick to Your Way, once you’ve found it. And last but not least, it takes self-marketinga lot of networking, and an art of bragging. All of these are gifts and skills we all compete at, and successful people are good at all of these – at least, that’s one message I’m constantly getting from career advices.

But what if you were not gifted in any of these? What if you were a horrible self-marketer, or if you were just not designed to focus on a single thing (that is, what if you were a Scanner)?

How does “concentrating on your unique strengths and talents” help you then?7

In the end, as comforting as the idea of uniqueness is, to successfully claim your place under the sun, there’s no way around leaving the zone of comfort and diving into the risky and adventurous world of competition.

Or is it?

  1. I keep quoting the word “niche”, because I feel it’s the kind of hype that is slowly starting to give me allergies. []
  2. In fact, by mere definition, nearly half of all people are below average at anything. 😉 []
  3. a low-sigma distribution – the no-competition case []
  4. Fortunately, the chance of being among the bottom 5% is extremely small, too []
  5. a high-sigma distribution []
  6. A trend that started about two decades ago, and which seems to have become the de-facto standard today – so much so, that I’m afraid my view may appear to be “not p.c.” []
  7. As it turns out, career advisers keep sending out contradicting messages. They tell you to focus on your unique strengths and talents, and in the next sentence they move the stress onto what seemingly everybody needs to do and be in order to get there. I imagine this can be pretty confusing. []

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