Your wife’s virtue shall remain as untouched as Bill Gates’ weight room. – The Simpsons

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The Scorpions have scale, and can rock you like a hurricane.

I was sitting on the deck, enjoying an evening at Stately Wilder Manor, while discussing the future and types of careers that are available with a Wilder-in-law.  One thing that we started talking about were career paths and luck.  I thought I’d share something our conversation inspired.

There are about a million bits of career advice we’ll talk about in future posts, but this is WilderWeeklyWisdom®, so we’ll be a bit more philosophical than that.

One of the better books I’ve ever read is “The Black Swan” by Nicholas Nassim Taleb (his site is here). Taleb does an awesome job of relating probability to the way we view the world.  He does so in a brash and insightful manner that’s sold millions of books.  He’s almost as good as me.  I’m going to borrow one of his core concepts to share with you, because it’s just so darn different of a way to look at how our modern world works.

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Not this Black Swan.

Most things that humans experience are nice and linear.  You start at point A and go to point B, and they follow nice 1+1=2 level math.  Simple.  When we lived in tribes of 30-170 and before we combined to create nations of any kind our life was simple and these linear models worked well to explain life. We lived and died seeing things that were almost all explainable by these simple relationships.  And it all made sense, or at least as much sense as it could before The Drudge Report™.

Let’s pretend we’re members of a 99 person tribe.  And it’s the most average of average tribes, so our tribal average height is 5’9” tall (that’s the average height of adult dudes in the USA).  If our tribe suddenly had the tallest person of all of the over 7,000,000,000 that are living in the world today join it, we might start seriously thinking about Olympic© basketball, since the tallest person in the world is 8’3” in height and we could certainly beat Moldova.

But what would the net impact be to our average tribal height?  We’d be 0.3” taller.  That’s the equivalent of wearing thick wool socks taller.  Hardly noticeable.

That’s linear/bell curve thinking – the way that the normal distribution works.  In my best condition ever, I think I could have run 100M in 13 or so seconds.  Usain Bolt ran it in 9.58 seconds.  I’m above average, but Usain is far, far to the right side of the curve.  He’d win every time, but he still “only” beats me by 3.5 seconds, it’s not like I finish the next day.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons – They also had it in English, but you weren’t going to read that, either.

So, things that are physical parameters we deal with every day – how tall, how fast, how smart, how skinny, et cetera, are all ruled by the mathematics of the normal curve.

But civilization has given us an enormous change in the way the world works.  Let’s look at the wealth of, say, Bill Gates.  If we kick out the tall guy (he was horrible under the rim) we have room to adopt Bill into our tribe.  Remember, our tribe of 99 is average, so we have an average (per Credit Suisse, via Financial Samurai) net worth of $301,000 (their estimate for the average net worth in the USA).  We adopt Bill who has a net worth of $84,000,000,000.  Our average net worth just went to $840,300,000 per person.  That’s a massive difference when compared to the property of height.  The changes in wealth are not normally distributed, and are scaled so differently that it’s hard for us to wrap our brains around this massive difference in quantities.

I’ve prepared an example to assist.  Let’s go back to our height comparison.  Bill Gates is 279,069.8 times wealthier than the average person in the USA.  Let’s just say that we used that same factor with something like, say, height?

Bill Gates would be 303.9 miles tall.

How about weight?

The average weight for dudes in the USA is 183 pounds.  Bill Gates would be 25,534 tons.

So, now I’ve created a gigantic Bill Gates that is certainly going to menace us like Godzilla.  Fortunately, at 303.9 miles tall, Bill’s head is over 295 miles above marginally breathable atmosphere, so he wouldn’t be able to menace us very long.  Until he fell after he died.

Assuming no terminal velocity constraints due to atmospheric friction, Bill’s enormous head would hit the ground at 6,886 miles an hour.  Ouch!  Goodnight Seattle!

Thankfully, we don’t have to contend with a gigantic Bill Gates.  We are stuck with the 5’10” version.

Taleb calls the wealth effect a scalable quantity, and it surrounds us.  If I were to restart my career today I would try to expose myself to scalable quantities whenever possible – it’s these scaled effects that generate the greatest amounts of wealth.

The flip side is that scaled opportunities have been and will force massive dislocation in the labor markets.  Once upon a time, every little town had a brass band, and singers, too.  The phonograph took the need for many of these local bands away – and even more so the singers.  I could pick up an album and listen to the best singers in the world.  The record companies made vast sums of wealth from the change in scale afforded by technology.  Then?  CDs, Napster, and right now I’m listening to songs (for more or less free) off of Youtube.com.  On Amazon, I have a subscription to essentially any song I can think of with the exception I cannot find the album “Stand Tall” by the Killer Dwarves, and yes, it’s a real album.  The internet is killing the record company.

Scale has done that to local disc jockeys and radio talk show hosts – now they’re national, we only listen to the best.  Scale will probably do that to the entire radio industry within a decade.  I get up in the morning and listen to radio stations in Houston or Fairbanks.  My local radio station is, for me, irrelevant.

Scale will probably eliminate all but the best teachers, too.  We’ll have great “rock star” level teachers and on-site facilitators will help kids learn in class.  That’s coming quickly.  Scale has already done that to sports – fractional differences in performance are worth tens of millions of dollars in contract revenue for players.

In all of these cases, there is going to be massive profit made for those that execute well on the scalable strategies, just like there was for our 303.9 mile tall Bill Gates, who has made money by destroying industry after industry – from typewriters to libraries, and not by stomping on them physically.

Artificial Intelligence will also impact the lives of millions (and make others billions).  There are 3.5 million truckers.  How many truck stop employees depend upon them?  At least a million more.  If I have a self-driving truck, now I eliminate most issues with driving hours, rest periods and legal liability.  I also put at least 2.5 million of the truckers out of business.  This is more scaled disruption that is possible in a decade or less.

So, back to my career advice to the Wilder-in-law?  Become a dentist.  Robots aren’t good at drilling teeth, and probably won’t be for fifty years, and I’m thinking we won’t accept the Terminator® with a drill in our mouths, until forced to by our orbiting Emperor Gates the Gigantic.

All hail our new titanic overlord!

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.

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