I came across an old article by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, talking about career success. It’s hard to take Adams seriously on any topic if you’ve read any of his Dilbert cartoons but he seems to be quite serious on this advice and I think it’s pretty sound.
He says: If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But, if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:
- Become the best at one specific thing.
- Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
Yes, Scott said very good and I said pretty good but I think you can put the top 25% in either category.
He also goes on to say don’t try path # 1, it’s way too difficult and takes way too much sacrifice. But, path number # 2 is within most people’s reach.
I am often struck by how many people seem to fall into the “it doesn’t take much planning” part of average success. “I didn’t really plan for any of this, it just seemed to happen” is a story line I hear. But it doesn’t take too much planning to push toward the extraordinary as Scott defines it.
Try this exercise and don’t be shy, you don’t really have to write down your assessment in a blog where people will see it: What would I consider the few areas where I would place myself in the top 25% of anything?
This caused some reflection on my part.
- I read a lot. I have no idea if I’m in the top 25% but it does seem to be more than average (See my post on Read your way to success)
- I get to talk with lots of leaders in lots of industries. Most consultants will be high on this one but I find it to be really useful for cross pollination of ideas.
- I have no fear of working in front of a group of people (probably out of shear ignorance)
- And, I can’t really think of anything else I would claim to be in the top 25%.
So, what does all this prove? You don’t have to be really good at anything and the things that you are somewhat good at don’t have to be very spectacular. Just as Scott says, just be in the top 25% in two or more areas and you’ll experience something above average success. No joke, I think he’s right.
But, there are two key premises to his statement: Be pretty good at two or more things and plan! It doesn’t happen without planning.
What are your two areas? Are you getting better at each one of them? Are you trying to add a third? What’s your plan? Plans are not about yesterday. Plans are about what comes next. What will you do different tomorrow to begin building for an extraordinary future?