Talent Stacks

“She’s not a superhero; she’s a weirdo.” – Stranger Things

DSC01911Talented?  Hmmm, lucky if you ask me.  Except for The Hulk.  He’s got talent.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) created the concept of the Talent Stack and wrote about it in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.  I have always enjoyed Mr. Adams’ work, and appreciate his sense of humor, but I think I like his unique ideas even more.  And this is an interesting one.


One way to be great is to have a singular talent that nobody else possesses, like, Keanu Reeves.  Keanu is the most talented person on the planet earth, because?  His talent is literally and only “Being Keanu Reeves.”  Neo in The Matrix and Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?  Same dude.  But Keanu also doesn’t age due to a pact he made with an old gypsy woman on a mountaintop in 1643 in Bulgaria, so that has to count as a second talent.  But we’ll pretend that doesn’t exist for now.

Bulgaria or not, you will never be Keanu Reeves.  (Unless it’s you, Keanu!  Hi!  It’s okay for you to be you!)

Talent Stack

Let’s take a second person.  Say, Peyton Manning.

Peyton has multiple talents – he’s tall, like 7’8”.  In his prime he could throw a football adequately, but never the best in the league.  He had a talent (built up out of long practice) of being able to understand a defense and what opportunities it provided his offense.  He could also lead a team on the field.  He ran, however, like a burning stork being chased by Hillary Clinton.  Pretty slow.

Was he world class in any of these talents?  Not really, but probably pretty close in his understanding of the whole offense/defense thing.  His talent stack made him great.

In Mr. Adams’ thought, in order to be great, you don’t have to be great at everything, you just have to be adequate at a bunch of little things.  It helps to be great at some, but it’s not required.  Here is his analysis of Donald Trump’s talent stack.

I tend to take this analogy in a slightly different direction – as an individual it’s horribly hard to compete against a big company.  Let’s pretend you want to duke it out, toe to toe against Google®.  You might be an awesome programmer.  But in order to compete you have to also be an awesome marketer, accountant, leader, financial wizard, and about a hundred other things and there wouldn’t be any you left over to eat Pez®.

Where I Throw In One Too Many Football Analogies

One more analogy – if you have a football team that’s all quarterbacks and defense with no other offensive players?  You’re not very good (sorry, Houston Texans™).  That’s a horrible talent stack.  So, not only do you have to have adequate talents, you have to have the right talents.  The Patriots® don’t have the best at, really, any position.  Tom Brady is a decent quarterback, but the year he was out injured?  The number two guy did just as well.  And when they traded him?  Umm, I think he’s a beet farmer in southern North Dakota.  That team regularly transforms mediocre players into a championship roster.  They cover all of the positions adequately.  Oh, and occasionally they cheat, which is a talent all in itself.

My theory? A talent stack in a single person is exactly like teamwork in an organization.

So, while acknowledging that it’s impossible for me to be Keanu Reeves, I will say that it’s not impossible for me to be wildly successful with a decent talent stack.

What kind of talents fit in a talent stacks?

Most attributes a human can be good at.  Piano.  Chess.  Necromancy.  Running.  Eating a Slurpy©.  Knowing how much cheese to put in a bowl of chili.

And most talents are talents that most people can be adequate at, with a bit of work and practice (with the exception of the cheese/chili ratio).  And if you’re not good at them?

But they can also point out areas where you have crucially missing talents.

The downside of this, for stupid people, is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, whereby people that are too stupid, are too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. (Wikipedia)

I suspect it’s also similar for people who have glaring deficits of social skills as well as cognitive skills, but being as socially adept as I am, well, I certainly wouldn’t know.

Where to Get Better

I really do think that the biggest returns you can make are when you work on your best talents, as long as the basics that you need to cover are covered.  You probably don’t need to be a great accountant at your small business, unless your business is accounting.  (Then you probably need to be a great accountant.)  Imagine, if you will, if someone told LeBron James that he should spend more time on math.  That would likely have been a waste, unless LeBron could improve his jump shot by using differential equations.

So, to summarize:

  1. Talent – Having a strong talent will take you places, unless the talent is eating Doritos©. Then I can’t really help you.
  2. Keanu Reeves – Doesn’t age. And makes movies based upon being Keanu Reeves for a living.
  3. Talent Stacks – It’s like having Multiple Personality Disorder, but with much more profit.
  4. Singular Talent Vs. Talent Stacks – It’s like being a dentist vs. winning the lottery. Be the dentist.
  5. If You’re Stupid – No real hope for you. Enjoy the lemon juice.  And the prison.  Please don’t have kids.
  6. Talent – Is probably not enough for you. Or me.  Or anyone but Keanu.
  7. Talent Stacks and Team Work – Similar to each other.
  8. Where to Focus – On what you’re good at, as long as that talent is useful.

So, my talents?  I like humor, can math, like to write, and I generally show up to work on time.

What about you?

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

2 thoughts on “Talent Stacks”

  1. Can I enter eating in my talent stack? I think I’m above average, it should actually be the base of my food pyramid/talent stack….

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