Here’s a career and business idea that seems to be bubbling up in America right now… Your credentials don’t matter. Your career sequence doesn’t matter. And your career choice doesn’t matter.
All that really matters to have a solid, high-paying career is to be really freaking good at whatever you do.
Over at Slate, a pharmaceutical chemist critiqued the idea that “America needs more scientists and engineers.” He argues that we don’t need more scientists – we need better scientists.
Scientists who are really freaking good. Mediocre American scientists don’t have a job – they aren’t needed. Mediocre work doesn’t work anymore – and what remains can be done by cheap Chinese scientists. See the full article here.
Over at The Economist, Babbage discussed a group of programmers who are “tenXers.” In other words, programmers who, through insight, versatility, and sheer productivity create 10x the amount of code that an average programmer can create – in less time, with better accuracy. Read the full article here. Here’s a quote of a quote from the article…
In his delightful guide to recruiting top talent (“Smart and Gets Things Done”), Joel Spolsky, a company founder and ten-x programmer himself, as well as a former paratrooper in the Israeli army, wrote in 2007 that the trouble with using a lot of mediocre programmers instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they strive, they will still produce something mediocre. “Five Antonio Salieris won’t produce Mozart’s Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years.”
And this trend applies to every field now. Mediocre doesn’t cut it. And if mediocre is needed…well there’a a few million Indians, Chinese, and Filipinos who can do mediocre.
So way back when, the general career advice was just stay out of trouble, work hard, and you’d succeed.
A bit later, as the economy changed, the conventional wisdom was to just stay in school as long as possible, work hard, stay out of trouble…and you’d succeed.
Moving on a decade or so… now you need to make the right choices (ie, major in Medicine – not English Literature), and stay in school a long time, work hard, stay out of trouble…and you’d succeed.
Now we’re in the late 2000s. Internships! Be sure to get real life experience in the correct career path, after getting a lot of education, and of course, working hard, staying out of trouble…and you’d succeed.
Enter 2012. Just be incredibly freaking good at whatever you are doing – and you’ll get paid really well.
Mediocre just doesn’t work anymore. Not only does it not work anymore – but there’s millions of Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos who’ll do mediocre for dimes on the American dollar.
Even traditionally high paying jobs like doctors, lawyers, nurses, and engineers don’t cut it if you’re not top-notch.
And traditionally medium-paying jobs can be really lucrative if you are really good.
In an article on Making It In America, Adam Davidson reported on the strength and increasing automation of American manufacturers. In the article – he mentioned a guy named Luke Hutchins who started at the factory working for $30+/hr. That’s to start. A skilled machinist can make upwards of $100,000/yr, according to the BLS.
Luke’s secret? He’s good. Really good.
“I’m very good at math,” he says. “I’m not going to lie to you. I got formulas written down in my head.”
And so he’s going to make more as a machinist than many graduating doctors in America.
The Good News
easier more possible than ever to become really freaking good. Venkatesh Rao (author, consultant) argues over here than anyone can become that good if you learn how to learn – and learn to focus on what you do best.
There’s courses and all sorts of free resources everywhere if you know where to look. Performance studies is a science rather than guesswork. Cambridge released a whole handbook on how top-performers perform (it’s not in-born “talent”). In addition to more popular (and readable) books like Talent Is Overrated and Outliers.
[edit 7/8/2012, the Washington Post ran a news article on this exact topic]