Top 5% in the world

There are no easy ways to be world-class, but some are easier than others.

The hardest spots are for folks who specialize in merely 1 discipline – concert violinists, Olympic athletes or physicists vying for the Nobel prize. The world only needs about a thousand world-class violinists, and about three Nobel prize winning physicists per year. And yet, millions of people compete for these spots.

An easier bet is to excel at the intersection of disciplines. Being in the top 15% of more than one discipline can put you in the top 5% of their intersection. Dan Carlin is neither the world’s best historian nor its foremost radio host (that dying breed!). But within this intersection, his Hardcore History podcast makes him the king. The Harlem Globetrotters are unique because they are the best actors among basketball players, and the best basketball players among actors.

A few observations here:

Top 15% in an intersection is exponentially easier than top 5% in a single, crowded discipline. Intersections are niches that are more scarce and less crowded.

Some disciplines mix better than others. Writing plus podcasting go better together than chess and juggling. But don’t hold your imagination back, for the internet can enable the weirdest of intersections.

Being the top 15% in two or three meaningful disciplines is better than being in the top 50% of a goulash of trades hacked together without forethought. It is difficult to build an audience based on being a fashion designer, a writer, a guitarist and a triathlete who can craft some pottery.

The world is all respects is turning more interdisciplinary. Today’s cars have more electronic than mechanical parts. Today’s leading biologists do less field work than in the past, and get way more done while coding on a computer.

In the pursuit of excellence, don’t restrict yourself to one thing. Instead, think of the meaningful intersections.

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