Top Guns…

In today’s highly competitive world, it is critical to be number one or at the top of your profession. It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, you need to be at the top. The difference in compensation (or money), power, fame, influence, etc. between the top few and the rest of the group (in some cases, the first and the rest) is very huge.

If you have to undergo a major surgery, who will you choose? The best surgeon in town; you will never settle for the second best when your life is at stake.

When you choose the school for your children, which one will you choose? The best school in your area; you wouldn’t want any compromises when it comes to the future of your kids.

When you want the build a house, who would you approach? The best architect you can find; building a house is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ project for most people and we want the best value for our money.

So in most of the cases, we would settle only for the best—yes, the best that is within our reach; sometimes beyond it too. So, the top few in every profession are always busy and they become busier and busier; richer and richer… Robert Merton called this the Matthew effect.

Matthew effect is the phenomenon where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It takes its name from a line in the biblical Gospel of Matthew: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” — Matthew 25:29

According to Zipf’s law the number one gets 10 times the benefit of number 10 and 100 times the benefit of number 100. But real life is even more dramatic. For example, the world’s best paid authors for the year 2009 are the following (Source: Forbes Magazine):

  1. J.K. Rowling ($300M)
  2. James Patterson ($50M)
  3. Stephen King ($45M)
  4. Tom Clancy ($35M)
  5. Danielle Steel ($30M)
  6. John Grisham and Dean Koontz ($25M)
  7. Ken Follet ($20M)
  8. Janet Evanovich ($17M)
  9. Nicholas Sparks ($16M)

As you can see Rowling tops the list. But what is even more interesting is that her earnings ($300M) are more than the combined earnings of the rest ($263M). No wonder everyone wants to become as successful as JKR!

In the book “Ignore Everybody” Hugh MacLeod says “Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.” He advocates finding a profession or even creating one, where you have a huge advantage that will prevent others from even trying to compete with you. And if someone tries, then that person will have to climb the same mountain you have climbed and as you still are scaling greater heights (by working hard and improving your skills), it will be nearly impossible to catch up with you. It means creating your own niche and then establishing you in a way that new entrants (future competitors) don’t have a chance to survive.

In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell says that many outliers (Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Steve Jobs, Beetles, etc.) had more than 10,000 hours of experience in their chosen profession—in the case of Gates and Joy it was programming, for Jobs it was making computers, and for Beetles it was performing on stage—so they could grab and forge ahead at a speed that nobody could match, when the opportunity came knocking.

In the book Dip, Seth Godin asks you to quit as soon as you find out what you are doing is not your dream or passion. According to him, the saying “winners never quit” is quite absurd. According to Godin, winners quit fast, quite often, and quit without guilt—until they come to the right profession or career. Once they find out their niche they will work so hard and become the best. Once you become number one in your niche, you’ll get more than your fair share of profits, glory, and long-term security.

So find out your calling and then work hard, become the best, make your own luck, and become the top guy in your field. I wish you all the very best…


  1. Sam said,

    March 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could reach some level of excellence without having to put in as much effort as is required?!
    A Utopian dream, I know! : )

    The thought of putting in 10,000 hours into a particular activity alone is exhausting business! Hats off to those who accomplish such mammoth tasks!!!!

    I shall step into my grave with a smile on my face knowing I’ve lived a wonderful life of average accomplishments!!!! 😀

  2. Zahra said,

    March 2, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Hello Mr.Leon :)…I’ve been a silent follower of your blog for quite some time now, and I find your writing extremely pertinent and heartening.
    This post touched a chord, ‘coz it came at a time when I needed it most. I chucked a secure job some time ago when I realized that I couldn’t see myself in this field for the rest of my life. My dreams of a career switch haven’t materialized yet, but I’m hopeful they will…… after reading this I feel a little more certain….. Thank you so much for the timely boost! 🙂

  3. Alexis Leon said,

    March 2, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Sam: Good idea. You can always reach ‘some’ level of excellence without much effort. The 10,000 hour rule applies for outliers. “Wonderful life of average accomplishments” that is a nice one 🙂

    Zahra: Thank you Zahra. You must read Dip. It is a small book. But the ideas it gives are gems and very practical. It changed my views about quitting and success. Now it makes a lot of sense. I am sure when you follow your dream and give it your best shot, you will succeed. I wish you all the very best in achieving your dream.

  4. sam said,

    March 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Absolutely love the cartoon! Hilarious! I am very consistent that way too! 😀

  5. CPA Network said,

    March 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you very much for that superb article

  6. bindu said,

    March 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

    That cartoon of yours is so me (LOL)

    Very relevant post. We had a training recently and one thing that the trainer said seemed very logical – “Spend 1-2 hours each day on something that you are passionate, for two years and you will be an expert in that”

  7. bindu said,

    March 5, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Read ‘Dork’. As you said, nothing special, so like many other IIT / IIM stories that we get these days 🙂

  8. Alexis Leon said,

    March 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Sam: Thanks…

    CPA Network: My pleasure.

    Bindu: Thanks Bindu… Everyone should follow their passion. But most of us are afraid to take the risk leaving the comforts of the regular job and paychecks. And ‘Dork’, I didn’t find it very entertaining. Readable, but not great.

  9. Paresh said,

    March 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for letting me know about the change in the URL, otherwise I’d have missed reading this… It surely helps a drifter like me to stay focussed for a while. 🙂