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Weekly 3: Use "career math" for success

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 26 · Issue #223 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: You can apply basic math concepts like multiplication to your career to increase your odds of success—even if you were terrible at the subject in school.
(~3 min read)

#1. Compound yourself
In an article about how to be successful, entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman writes that the process of compounding acts like magic: “Exponential curves are the key to wealth generation.”
For example, a medium-sized business that grows 50% in value every year becomes huge in a short period of time.
You want your career to follow a similar up-and-to-the-right trajectory.
As Altman points out, most careers progress linearly. You want to avoid this. You don’t want to be in a career where the people who have been doing it for 2 years can be just as effective as those who have been doing it for 20 years.
Instead, you want to ensure that you always maintain a high rate of learning and productivity. As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate increasing results. For Altman, there are several ways to achieve this kind of leverage, including brand, capital, managing people, network effects, and technology.
As you’re applying leverage to compound yourself and your career, Altman offers two tips:
1. Add another zero to whatever you use as a success metric
This can be money, status, your impact on the world, or something else – however you define and measure your success. 
Many people get stuck chasing linear opportunities, but it’s more effective to pass on small opportunities so that you can focus on “potential step changes.” 
This is how Altman approaches his own work: “I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote.”
2. Focus on the long-term
For Altman, the biggest competitive advantage in business, whether for a company or an individual, is long-term thinking and taking a broad view of how different systems are going to interact.
That’s because a key aspect of compound growth is that years furthest into the future are also the ones that are most important: “In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.”
#2. Learn the “multiplying skills”
Author and Derek Sivers writes on his blog on his blog that certain skills can “multiply the results of your efforts and give you an edge over others in your field.”
For example, the software engineer who is also a persuasive public speaker may have more opportunities than someone without that combination of skills.
Here’s a list of what Sivers calls the multiplying skills:
  • Computer programming
  • Conversation
  • Design
  • Knowing a second language
  • Meditation and focus
  • Persuasion
  • Public speaking
  • Understanding psychology
  • Writing ability
#3. Choose the opportunity with the most momentum
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in Super Thinking that inertia and momentum are physics concepts that can help you understand how things change.
Momentum and inertia are related concepts, and here’s a quick review of what they are.
Momentum = mass x velocity.
And you may remember from school that inertia is an object’s resistance to changing its state of motion. Inertia is a function of mass.
For example, a heavy object at rest has a lot of inertia because it’s hard to move. But it has no momentum since its velocity is zero (i.e., it’s at rest).
Once the heavy object starts moving, it gains momentum quickly. And the faster it moves, the more momentum it has.
OK, so what?
You can use these concepts to find career opportunities that have high or increasing momentum.
For instance, if you’re deciding between two organizations to work for, choose the one that’s starting to take off. Maybe the organization is applying an idea or a technology that’s beginning to go mainstream.
Why choose the organization with more momentum?
Because whatever contributions you make to the organization will get amplified by its momentum.
Quote of the week
“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.”
- Mathematician John von Neumann in a speech during the first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1947, as quoted in the journal Communications of the ACM
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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