One conclusion I often find myself coming to is that there's great benefit in being extreme. I used to wonder if I was being extreme just for the sake of being extreme, but the more I think about it and rationally think through it, the less I think that's the case. The core principle behind this is that you don't want to compete with the masses. [...] The extremes are where the value is. Not always, but as a heuristic. Look to the extremes.
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Looking at Extremes
Jul 13, 2012
As I wrote in What Lasts, classical music performances are an excellent place for me to think and tune out distractions. In addition to the suggestion that ideas are the durable commodity of our time, during that cello concert, I had another thought that was interesting to me.
Matthew is a twenty year old, and he's an excellent cello player. I have no idea if he's excellent amongst the field of professional cello players, but I mean that he's excellent in that he can play complex cello pieces well enough that they sound perfect to an amateur like me.
It's an interesting thing, learning to play cello. People have been learning to play cello for hundreds of years. It's an old trade. Some might even call it an antiquated trade.
Another antiquated trade is small-farm tea growing. Ispent a couple days on a tea farm in Fujieda, Japan last year. The family that ran the farm ranged in age from mid twenties to mid eighties. Everyone worked. I asked about this arrangement, and they told me, with audible sadness in their voices, that they were the exception to the rule. Most younger members of the family were going to the city, leaving the tea growing to the older generation. When they died, they said, the tea farms usually closed or got sold to the conglomerates making crappy tea-in-a-bottle.
Most people these days want office jobs. I don't really even know what all of these people are doing in offices, but my guess is sales, paperwork, reports, presentations, and management. Stuff like that. That's what the would-be tea farmers are doing. Probably the would-be musicians, watchmakers, and furniture makers, too.
I think that's a mistake. It's following the pack to the middle, which is bulging with available talent, dragging the rewards down with every new competitor.
As I sat and listened to the cello concert and thought, it occurred to me that the biggest benefits were probably at the extremes. Learn a very very new trade or a very very old trade.
On the old side, your competition is fleeing every day, making a sucker's trade. If you produce the best smalll batch tea, you'll always have job security. You won't become rich, probably, but neither will the office workers. If you're a stellar Cello player, you'll always have job security. Maybe you won't make the most money in the world, but you're in a field that is becoming rarer every day. If you choose wisely, you'll probably only become more in demand.
Besides making money, you become a more interesting person. What you have to share with others is something unique. If you handcraft furniture, I'd love to hear about what you do. If you shuffle papers in an office, I hope we'll find something else to talk about.
The very very new is also valuable, because, again, the competition is thin. If you're an intelligent person and a fast learner, you can get way ahead of the curve and keep your competition behind you. The new probably gets paid better than the old, but you have to constantly stay on the bleeding edge to keep getting paid well. The old pays less well, but offers more security without as much improvement. Like the old, he who does the very new is interesting because he can share knowledge that others aren't likely to have yet.
One conclusion I often find myself coming to is that there's great benefit in being extreme. I used to wonder if I was being extreme just for the sake of being extreme, but the more I think about it and rationally think through it, the less I think that's the case. The core principle behind this is that you don't want to compete with the masses. Not because they're great (they aren't), but because there are so many of them. By definition, whatever the masses are doing becomes a commodity. The work they produce isn't worth much, not because it's not useful, but because those doing it can be replaced like cogs in a machine. The experiences tailored for them are bland because they must be catered to the lowest common demominator of a very large field.
The extremes are where the value is. Not always, but as a heuristic. Look to the extremes. When we started working on SETT, we used pretty standard off-the-rack technology. That was my preference, not Todd's. I've come to believe that if it's not an outright mistake, it has its downsides. We recently switched to Bootstrap and LESS (two fairly new, yet easy to implement technologies), and the benefits have been huge. I can't help but think that we should have looked for a more bleeding edge database solution (like Redis). On the other end of the extreme spectrum, I spend my time learning somewhat antiquated (or at least declining in popularity) skills like memorization, writing, violin, and speaking difficult languages. That's what people used to do five hundred years ago.
Look to the extremes. That's where the good stuff is.
Picture is the interior of my RV (extreme!) through a fisheye lens that I bought just to make a good RV tour video. That's coming in August.