The Physics Behind Your Talent Stack

Using Physics to Help Understand Scott Adams

3 minute read

Understanding the Talent Stack

In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Scott Adams introduces the idea of the “talent stack.” As he also explains on his blog:

“...there are two ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to become the best at some specific skill, the way Tiger Woods dominated golf. But not many of us can be Tiger Woods. So that path is unavailable to 99% of the world.

I recommend a different approach. Most people can – with practice – develop a variety of skills that work well together. I call this idea the Talent Stack.

For example, I’m a famous syndicated cartoonist who doesn’t have much artistic talent, and I’ve never taken a college-level writing class. But few people are good at both drawing and writing. When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value.”

Adams’ point is that the majority of people will find much more success by being in the top 25% in multiple fields versus being the best in one specific area. The rationale makes sense - it is easier to be "pretty good" in a couple of areas while focusing on being the best in one specific domain can be a losing battle.

As someone with a diverse background/talent stack (manufacturing + crowdfunding + brand building + photography + seo + digital marketing + full stack web development) this concept resonated. But it was while reading Life on the Edge that the "how" behind the talent stack hit home.

Constructive Interference & Your Talent Stack

In physics, wave interference is a phenomenon in which two waves superpose to form a resultant wave of greater, lower, or the same amplitude. What we are interested wrt the talent stack is constructive interference. This is the result of two peaks or two troughs meeting. When this happens, they reinforce each other, generating twice the wave.

This same phenomenon applies to talents.

The Physics of the Talent Stack

On their own, each talent generates its own wave. But when we are able to sync these talents together we generate twice the talent. And the more skills we can add to the equation, the higher the talent stack wave grows.

The Self Perpetuation of the Talent Stack

At the same time, the inverse is also true: the troughs (in this case, what we don’t know) get deeper, too. And it is here where the opportunity to maintain a monopoly on our talent stack lives.

This is because the deeper the troughs, the harder the problems we have to solve. Which means that as we strengthen our unique talent stack we make it possible to answer these increasingly harder problems. Which again increases the amplitude of our talent stack wave and reinforces our value. The result: a self perpetuating cycle that strengthens the talent stack with every revolution.

The Talent Stack Cycle

Talents are tools. And the more tools we have, the more problems we can solve. Every problem solved makes our tools stronger. This allows us to solve increasingly complex problems. And so it goes.