The game has changed.

Information is cheaper and more accessible than ever. Anyone can learn anything, and old educational models centred on exclusivity and prestige are fast losing relevance.

The dizzying pace of change disrupts entire industries, and dislocates those within them. Business cycles are shorter than ever, and careers are not what they used to be.

When the ground keeps shifting beneath your feet, how can you be sure of your next step?

Studying those who are thriving in the new economy can teach us a powerful lesson; those making waves don’t compete for opportunities, they create them.

But how do you create opportunities?

You cultivate the rare superpower that distinguishes you from your peers.

In this two-part series you’ll learn what this superpower is, and why it is more important than any qualification, or association you might have or gain. You will also discover the two distinct ways this power can be developed to win in the new world of work.

To top it all off you will get a practical tool for mastering this superpower faster. Read on to level up.

Prediction Is a Distraction

The graph above tells a frightening story: technology is outpacing our ability to keep up.

Astro Teller runs Google X; a division of the tech giant focused purely on ‘moon shots’ which can solve massive, complex problems. He believes the gap between how fast we can learn, and how fast technology creates change is one of the biggest problems of our time.

Thomas Friedman illustrates this gap with a striking example in his book ‘Thank you for Being Late’. He makes the point that by the time regulations catch up with ride sharing services like Uber, autonomous cars will have made the current business model obsolete.

This is not an isolated example either, it has either happened or is happening all over:

By the time supply for coding skills meets demand, the task will be simplified and automated.

By the time universities figure out new tech like VR, education will have been democratised.

By the time most of us understand the blockchain, the real opportunities will have passed.

Most people see the landscape shifting and try to predict what the future will look like. While this is a fairly rational response, it can also be dangerous. Why?

Because trying to be one step ahead actually forces you to look behind.

This is because the only way you know how far ‘ahead’ you are, is by looking backward to map your current position against the previous one.

But the future doesn’t look like the past, and prediction is not protection. It is a dangerous distraction.

Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, the most successful hedge fund in history. He makes his living on being right about the future, but guess what? He thinks prediction is a cruel joke.

In his recent book ‘Principles’ he mentions a quote he tends to use a lot:

‘he who lives by the crystal ball is destined to eat ground glass’

He goes on to detail his learning on the fallacy of prediction:

“Between 1979 and 1982, I had eaten enough glass to realise what was most important wasn’t knowing the future – it was knowing how to react appropriately to the information available at each point in time.”

Learn from Ray’s experience: understand the future is and always will be fundamentally uncertain. Once you make your peace with that, you can stop making predictable errors trying to predict it. Then, and only then can you start working out what to do about it.

If you accept the above statement as the truth, you pretty much have two options:

  1. You can hone your ability to adapt.
  2. You can hone your ability to create.

Importantly, these two paths are not mutually exclusive. You can take both at once. However, both options depend on one essential skill: Learning how to learn.

Learning Is the New Black

Learning how to learn is the superpower of our time.

When you become a better learner, you become eminently more valuable.

The faster and better you can learn, the more adaptable you become. The more adaptable you are, the less biased your thinking. The less biased you are, the more readily you see nascent opportunities.

The adaptable person also becomes more creative as a result of a broader set of experiences. This allows them to traverse and connect multiple fields of interested to create new and novel ideas.

This is how Elon Musk went from sending money online to building rockets.

This is why Bitcoin was not built by bankers, but computer geeks.

This is what makes 90 million people download and listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast each month.

When you create an arrangement that has never been seen before, people pay attention. This instantly distinguishes you from others and puts you on playing field with no opponent.

To see what this looks like, watch award winning producer Pharrell William’s reaction to this folk musician’s early attempts at combining dance music with more natural and traditional sounds. [2:27 – 3:48] Then listen to what he says afterward [5:33 – end].

Realise this; competition is a race to the bottom, and only a select few actually prosper in a red ocean of competition. Just ask anyone who runs a business in direct competition with Amazon.

Essentially, it comes down to acquiring a new mental model. When everyone zigs, you zag. Better yet, forget anything starting with z and make up a completely new manoeuvre.

How does this work in the context of increasing your value you ask?

Simple. While everyone else is scurrying about trying to figure out what is best to learn (i.e should we all learn to code?), it’s probably better to first figure out how best to learn.

Consider the following thought experiment:

Who would fare better in the long run? The lumberjack that focuses intently on sharpening his axe? or the lumberjack who obsesses over the latest way to hold or swing an old blunt axe?

Learning is the constant, what to learn keeps changing.

But it’s not enough to value learning, those who do best learn in very distinct ways.

How to Become a Superhero: The Two Predominant Patterns

Too many of us have bought into the idea that the only way to get ahead is to (mindlessly) accumulate more qualifications. The truth is, beyond a certain point further formal education is a waste of time and money.

If that time and money were to be spent solving big problems, coming up with new and better ways to do things, or doing new things altogether many of us would be much better off.

Very often there are no qualifications or certifications for the rarest (and therefore most valuable) skills. Because when you get to the cutting edge, results overshadow everything.

Did the wright brothers have pilot’s licences?

Was Thomas Edison a qualified electrician?

Is Elon Musk an Astrophysicist?

When you look at the type of people are doing best in the new economy, two distinct patterns emerge.  The first pattern is ‘the pioneer’. The second pattern is ‘the artisan’. Both approaches acknowledge that results and reputation matter most, and both approaches leverage learning as the critical success factor.

The Pioneer 

Elon Musk is the ultimate pioneer. His knowledge is both broad and deep. He knows a little about a lot, and alot about a little. I know I know, sounds confusing, let me explain.

Being broad means, he has the ability to learn and know enough about a range of industries such as aerospace, transport and energy to envision or identify new opportunities the incumbents miss. He also has the courage to act on them.

Musk’s deep expertise is associated with building businesses that solve massive problems, and capitalise on the convergence of digital world (technology) with the physical world (products). No one on the planet can match him in this area.

Pioneers like Musk are masters of opportunity and execution. They see what no one sees, and go where no one has gone. Their reward is the claim they stake on new unexplored territory, and the empires they build on the back of their efforts.

Other notable pioneers are Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs

The Artisan

Jiro Ono personifies the artisan approach. Ono’s knowledge is deep and broad. He knows a lot about a little, and a little about a lot.

Being deep means he knows a lot about one thing; making sushi. In this area he stands alone. Over decades he has practiced and perfected his craft, today people pay a lot of money just to get a seat in his restaurant and be told what they’ll eat.

Being broad means that within his area of expertise, he knows a lot more than the average sushi maker about every aspect of the process. This includes sourcing and identifying the best fish (at the best times), buying the best rice, finding better ways to store it, and buying the best seaweed paper.

Artisan’s like Ono are masters of their craft, and become skilled at every single variable that impacts the outcome. Their reward is being renowned, and remunerated significantly more than most in their field or any other field.

Other notable artisans are Kelly Slater, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Louboutin.

Don’t stress, It’s Not Celebrity or Bust

At this point, you might be feeling a little anxious. This is probably because the most notable examples are also the most intimidating. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be world renowned to very well – you just need to follow their example within the context of your own career.

How exactly do you do this?

Well that’s what we’ll cover in the second part of this series. This is where I show you the powerful process these people all follow to become pioneers or artisans. I also give you a tool that can help you use and apply this process to your own goals.