Many people wish to be a millionaire, and spend a good deal of their lives practising different paths to get there. When men look at millionaires from the view point of admiration, good stories are often made up about how their success came about. Little do people know, that there are always two versions: the good stories, and the real stories. The good stories always tell you about how all the dots in these people’s lives magically connect. “You only need to get it right once. And everyone can then tell you how lucky you are”. (Mark Cuban)
However, the real stories, which remain untold, hide their struggles, failures, confusion and loss in their way to pursue the path to success. In this article, I’ll propose two thoughts on plotting your the “real” stories, or strategies, of how one man can stand out from the crowd and become extraordinary.
Thought 1: To become a millionaire, there are two simple paths:
Option (1) You make £1 of value for 1 million people.
Option (2) You make £1 million of value for 1 person.
You might interrupt me “Oh wait, Mai. What about Option (3) I’ll make a million in value for a million people – and become a billionaire?” To become a billionaire, you’ll first need to be able to make your first million. Therefore, let us discuss about these two options for now. If you recall any self-made wealthy individuals that you are aware of, their wealth is almost always obtained by either one of these options.
Option (1) represents the type of value-add that appeals to the mass such as Facebook, Google, top chart songs we listen to, the app we bought from App Store and the best-seller books that we read. Because their owners create a small amount of value for each of us but are able to offer it and attract the public to use it, collectively they obtain a handsome exchange for the total value they create.
Option (2) represents the irreplaceable traits one person can offer to a selected group in society. Successful investment bankers, hedge fund managers, biomedical professionals and artificial intelligent researchers are among these people. What they offer is so highly specialised, irreplaceable and have such high value add to a small group, who can afford to pay them a handsome amount in return.
Which option you choose will define your strategies for this pursuit. If you choose Option (1), you don’t need to create an enormous value, but more importantly you need to ensure the small value you create reaches and attracts at least a million people who’s willing to pay for it. If you choose Option (2), you should focus on improving your expertise till you can create £1 million in value using your talents or highly specialised set of skills or knowledge.
People who are lost are those who try to create £1 million for 1 million people (too difficult to achieve to the point it’s impossible), or create £1 or 1 person (this “person” is usually themselves – by doing nothing at all)
Thought 2: How to become the best
Assuming you have chosen Option (2) and want to become the best in something. What is that “something”? What could I be best at? Such questions are asked in introspection of many twenty-something in an attempt to refine their life goal.
I could suggest an answer, or more rightly, a rough guide around it – purely based on theory on probabilities. To become the world’s best in something, the probability is extremely slim, if not close to impossible. For example, what is the chance for you to become the world’s best programmer? A study by IDC in 2014 estimates of 29 million professional ICT-skilled workers and 18.5 million software developers around the world, making a population of 47.5 million professional programmers (excluding hobbyists). To defeat all of them, that’s a probability of 0.000000021 assuming everyone has an equal amount of resources and ability – which is obviously a false assumption. In reality the probability is much lower than 0.000000021, if you want to become the world’s number 1. Imagine if it’s a game of 47.5m programmer in a competition. Each of them pays £1 to enter the game. The winner will win £47.5m. However, the probability of winning this – for a large number of the entrants – is much lower than a fair lottery, since the resources and abilities are not evenly distributed. This explains the reason why Roger Federer’s accumulated prize money amount alone is $92.4m – probability adjusted for his rare talent.
How do you improve your probability of becoming the best in something? Of course, don’t focus on becoming the best in “one” thing. Diversity your expertise to at least 2-3 fields or even more.
Let me explain. For example, if you are the world no. 30 million-ranked programmer (worse than average), but you are *also* an expert in dolphins (e.g. PhD in Zoology) – what is the probability of someone else in that 47.5m people knowing about the same two fields and can fairly compete with you? Because of the low correlation between the two fields (dolphins and programming), chances are extremely low. Even if a person with the same two expertise exists in that population, it’s unlikely that they are within the same geographical context, or market, to compete with you. Since you are fairly confident of your monopoly, you can find ways to create value using these two expertise e.g. making an app to track dolphins, or using programming languages to study the communications of dolphins. You can then provide these value add to those who are willing to pay for it (e.g. dolphin preservation organisations or zoology research centers)
In summary: To become the best, I’d suggest: Pick three (or more if you like)
– 1 skill
– 1 field of knowledge
– 1 secret sauce
Step 1: Choose to focus on one skill you can master (e.g. writing, programming, drawing etc.), and one field of knowledge you know inside out (e.g. history, criminology, finance, physics etc.) Remember, the more uncorrelated/rare are these two picks, based on probability theory, the stronger monopoly you’d have.
Step 2: Combine these two expertise into tangible value add, such as a product, with the extras of using your secret sauce; such as your life experiences, your motivation/desires and the people you know.
Step 3: Ensure it reaches people who will be willing to exchange your value-add for what you want (not necessarily in monetary terms but in the forms of rewards you desire).
Voila! Three simple steps to pick the field that you can be best at.
If you are interested in the content of this article – I’d recommend that you read a series of articles on Financial Times called “My First Million” where a number of self-made millionaires was interviewed on how they made their first million of fortune. We are too often dazzled by stories of billionaires, instantly recognised tech founders and overnight successes. The articles of “My first million” are good reminders of the baby steps to acquire and create wealth – by first, making your first million.
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