What's Your Edge?
If you had to clearly articulate your professional competitive advantage, what would you say?
How can you be so sure that you’re better than the average person in this field? By how much
How much is that worth?
How long can you sustain that edge without actively working at it?
How do you maintain an advantage while technology & market conditions inevitably advance?
I think a lot about my personal development as though I was a free agent in baseball. I sharpen my skills and create an edge an employer (or client) is willing to pay for on the open market. My professional development is largely had in two forms:
‘Mid-Season’ - When I’m not totally off of work focused on a new topic I read a lot of books on interesting topics that expand my perspective. (I’ll be posting a list soon)
Baseball is an interesting comparison when you think about it. The sport that has been completely transformed by data analytics. One of the most commonly known statistics among nerds like me is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR is baseball's attempt at quantifying the value of a players skills as compared to the freely available "replacement" talent available on the market. Basically, front offices can predict with great accuracy how many more team wins you offer over their current player in your position in terms of expected value.
Having access to such a wealth of data also offers teams a ton of creativity when assembling a roster because you can find additional wins in a variety of ways. However, you generally can't overcome a large win deficit because talent tends to win even more so in baseball due to the large sample size of a major league season. Think about the thousands of decisions an employee you hire makes through the course of their career, the impact must be enormous if you could truly measure it. But unlike baseball, when picking an employee you’re working with a really terrible data set. This is why it’s important to be as specific with your career development strategy as you are with your day-to-day (work) growth strategy.
Are you designing your career, or is your job designing you?
The decisions we make on where to work, what to learn, who to spend our time with, are all just one big high stakes poker game. The thing is it's easy to blame those results on external factors when they don't work out, and take all the credit when they do.
When building a team it's also dangerous to overvalue certain types of people due to inner bias. It's also hard to quantify the impact of those decisions.
When crafting your own career, it can be tempting to just work really really hard, thinking that your incremental gains in experience will provide leverage later on. After all, that's kind of how it's always worked (outside of startups). Two obvious fallacies in that logic are:
It assumes the experience you gain today will be applicable later - where the practice of repeatedly learning a task that will always be valued.
It assumes that by doing, you will improve - the experience of doing increases your ability to perform.
It assumes an equal playing field at the start - whereby being in the position offers you some kind of competitive advantage.
One of the beauties of a free market is the enormous upside. The right skills & ambition can pay off in a big way. The inverse is also true, where if you spend all of your time focused on your current work, you might wake up in 5-10 years and find yourself not as well positioned. You need to be hyper—aware of the changing market conditions, your own capabilities and what career path aligns with your current & future goals.
What are you doing to keep your edge? Drop a comment below.