Pareto's Pyramid of Performance
Most people believe that second rate performance is fine, and third-rate performance is acceptable. I do not, and I never have.The more important your cause is to you, the more important you think your cause should be to the world. If you represent your cause in a second rate way, you are doing your cause a disfavor. You are also identifying yourself as a second-rater. You are announcing this to the world: "Second rate is fine, especially when it comes to the thing I believe most dearly in. You should believe in it just as dearly as I do."
Every movement has representatives. Representation is basic to all institutions. There is a hierarchy of leadership, just as there is a hierarchy of wealth, a hierarchy of prestige, and so forth.
Not everybody can be at the top of the hierarchy in each field, although this occasionally happens. In the field of investing, Warren Buffett is at the top. There is no one else in the world who occupies this position . . . as far as we know. He is at the top in the creation of investment one-liners. "We don't know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out." "There are three stages of investing: innovation, imitation, and idiocy."
In any field of performance, there is an inevitable Pareto curve. About 20% of the performers in any field will gain 80% of the attention. The vast majority of performers on YouTube will gain only 20% of the attention. There is no way around the Pareto curve.
The more radical form of the Pareto curve was announced by the great science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon. It is called Sturgeon's Law. "Ninety percent of everything is crap." Sturgeon really was a master. As a teenager, my favorite science fiction author was Sturgeon, and I grew up in the golden era of science fiction. As someone in the top 1% of his field, he was intolerant of second rate.
The Internet has opened up the world of ideas and public performance to people with a wide range of talents . . . very wide. When you see something on YouTube, you should look at it from the point of view of Pareto's curve. You recognize that most of what is out there is not worth viewing. A few videos go viral, but most of them don't. Some performances are spectacular and unexpected, but this is not normal. I think the best video I have ever seen that illustrates this unexpected nature of supreme performance is this one. It has gone viral for precisely this reason.
PARETO IN MY LIFE
From an early age, I decided that I would not participate in activities in which I had no legitimate shot at being in the top 20%. I remember only one thing from my kindergarten experience. The teacher came around with coloring sheets. I had a choice. One was Dick. One was Jane. I told the teacher I didn't want to color either of them. I understood from an early age that art was not my field. She told me that I had to pick one of them. I picked Dick. I picked up a red crayon. I scribbled as fast as I could across the picture. I certainly did not try to stay within the lines. I handed the picture back to her.
I decided from an early age not to stay within the lines unless I had to, given the pressures of the institutional system. I also understood very early how bureaucracies work. That ability has never failed me.
I did not know about Pareto's law, but I understood how it worked by the second grade. I made up my mind at that age to be in the top 5%. I did know what percent was, but I knew where I wanted to be.
By the time I was in high school, in academic matters, I was in the top 5%. If there was a test in which there were 20 questions, I would get 19 of them correct. Rarely did I get 100% correct. I was content with being in the top 5%. But in the field of social studies, I was the best. I knew I had a knack for that, and there I decided to be the best. As Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, a man needs to know his limitations.
In college, I dropped back into the top 20% until my senior year. In grad school, I moved into the top 1%. I began writing for The Freeman when I was 25 years old, and the next year my first book came out, Marx's Religion of Revolution. I only got one B in grad school, and the guy who gave it to me really was a third-rater. The history department did not renew his contract. His total output in his career was one book, and it was published 29 years later.
If you stay in the top 5% long enough, and you keep pushing, you may make it into the top 1%. But don't count on this.
My website, GaryNorth.com, is in the top 100,000 in terms of traffic out of about one billion websites, according to both Alexa and Compete.com. Before Alexa restructured its algorithm, the website was in the top 40,000. That's high for a subscription-based website. I had no illusions that it was going to get in the top 10,000, or even the top 25,000, but I always hoped that it could get somewhere around 35,000. It is not going to make it now, because Alexa restructured its algorithm. But I am content with a lower ranking because the income is good. I am not in this for the Alexa ranking.
In the field of Christian economics, I am Warren Buffett. That's because the competition has never been strong. I found the right niche. If you go do a search on "Christian economics," links to things I have written will be in the top 10. Usually, you'll find my book, An Introduction to Christian Economics (1973), in the number-one or number-two position. It depends on the search engine you use. There are usually two links to it in the top 10.
When I first decided to investigate Christian economics in 1960, there was no one in the field who was a fundamentalist Protestant. They were people who wrote for the tabloid, Christian Economics, but it was not really Christian, which I understood in 1960. By 1965, I decided to become the best in the field. I have probably devoted something in the range of 40 hours a week on this process ever since. I was not paid to do this, nor did I ever expect to be paid.
I never had any illusions about being the best person in the field of Austrian economics. I was always in competition with Murray Rothbard. So, I was shooting for the top 5%. In terms of name recognition and the volume of my output, I have been in the top 1% ever since Lew Rockwell began posting my materials back in 2000. I have about 1500 articles on LewRockwell.com. But I have a few on Mises.org.
CLIMBING INTO THE TOP 20%
I am convinced that almost anybody with above-average talents who finds a niche in which these talents are appropriate can get into the top 20%. The differentiating factor between those in the top 20% and those who range between 21% and 50% is not talent. It is perseverance. Perseverance pays. The earlier you adopt the attitude of perseverance, the more surely you will climb the pyramid of performance into the top 20%.
I adopted this attitude no later than the fifth grade. By the time I got into high school, it was basic to my personality and worldview. I knew I was going to be a writer of some kind by the time I was a senior in high school. I knew I was also going to be a public speaker by this time. I worked on both skills from that time on.
By the time I got to college, I was not tolerant of mediocre performance. I did not associate with people who were not constantly attempting to improve themselves. The old phrase is true: birds of a feather flock together. We associate with people who have similar attitudes. I was always associating with liberals in college, because that is all there was. In college, I was aware of no more than a dozen conservatives on the campus, and the only one with academic pretensions turned out to be a plagiarist. As freshmen, we were both invited by Robert Nisbet to a small meeting with Russell Kirk. There was nobody else he could invite. In the entire University of California system, which had something like 40,000 undergraduate students, I never heard of a conservative student leader. Maybe one of them was out there, but I should have heard of him, but I never did. As far as I know, I was the only elected student government officer who was ideologically conservative in the whole University of California system in 1960-62.
I was not representing anybody, but I had the attitude that I had better be a superior performer, because I held a system of thought that was unpopular. I was a Goldwater supporter in 1960. That was early.
If you last long enough, you outlast the competition. The leftists got all the attention after the free speech movement began at Berkeley in the fall of 1964. As far as I know, they are all dead or else they drifted into other things. Even the most notorious of them, Communist Bettina Aptheker, is now just a lesbian leftist professor at the far Left University of California, Santa Cruz. Nobody hears much about her anymore. A decade ago, I wrote an open letter to her. About eight months later, she went public with the fact that her Stalinist father had sexually abused her. Her father was the most famous Stalinist intellectual in the United States in the 1950's and 1960's. He was an ideological scum bag, and his behavior matched his ideology. But he was at the top, for all the good it did him.
Hayek lived longer than his competitors in 1930. He won the Nobel Prize in 1974, and he wrote The Fatal Conceit in 1985.
Jacques Barzun was in the top 1% by 1960, yet his magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence, was published in the year 2000. Peter Drucker rose to the top in 1946 with the publication of The Concept of the Corporation. He was still at the top in 2002, when he was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Some people get to the top early and maintain their position. But this is rare.
Lew Rockwell is the most influential libertarian website editor today. He started it early: 1995. By the year 2000, his site was the main libertarian clearinghouse. He started the Mises Institute in 1982. Then he stuck with it. Rockwell is not the main theorist in the libertarian movement, but because of his presence on the Web, he has created the two most popular libertarian websites. One is the best one academically, and the other one is the best one in terms of traffic.
Compare this with the Cato Institute. It has all that money, and most of it has come from one source: Charles and David Koch. It has all those staffers with Ph.D.'s, but it has little influence inside the Beltway and not much more outside the Beltway.
Getting into the top 20% has to do with vision, perseverance, and the amount of time you are willing to invest. It is not a matter of money. In any case, with YouTube, WordPress.org, and the Internet generally, you don't need any money. You can do it with what I call the three T's: talent, time, and technology.
Pick a niche field. Decide that you are going to get into the top 20%. Once you get into the top 20%, decide that you're going to get into the top 5%. After you get into the top 5%, don't worry about it. Getting into the top 1% is pretty much beyond your control. There is no technique for clawing your way in the top 1%. But there is for getting into the top 20%, and I think there is for getting into the top 5%.
Don't settle for mediocre. Don't settle for being in the range of 21% to 50%. You don't have to do this. You may choose to do this because you want to put your time into other things. That is legitimate. But do not attempt to represent a movement or whatever it is you believe in strongly if you take this attitude.
The best way to climb up the pyramid of performance is to start right where you are. Your task is to become a servant. You must become helpful. You must decide who it is you can help, and then you must dedicate your efforts to becoming a superior performer in this particular range of performance. You want to help other people do a better job, and to do this, you have to do a better job. As you improve, your range of influence will increase. As your range of influence increases, you will by definition move up the pyramid of performance. The remnant will tell you how good you are. The people who become dependent on you will determine how good you are. You may want to be a chief, but to do this, you had better have Indians.
In the field of ideas, there has never been a time in history that is more ideal. The Internet has changed our world, and it has opened the world to almost anybody with talent. It has also opened the world to millions of people whose talents are minimal, whose dedication is minimal, and who do not believe in the three T's.
Woody Allen is correct: 80% of success is just showing up. Show up every day or at least every week. Let people set their clocks or calendars by your self-discipline in showing up. Do this long enough, and you will get into the top 20%.
Then live to age 80. You will make it into the top 5%.