Plan Your Career

The best way to help your future career is to develop scarce, in-demand skills. Ultimately that's how you get more of what you want, whether that's money or impact or fame or leverage or whatever else. Sadly, but realistically, if you're doing something that many other people can also do then it really doesn't matter how hard or important that thing is, you're not going to be well-rewarded for it or make career progress through it.

What are some scarce, high-demand skills? Mastering new tech is always a scarce skill, because new tech is new so there are fewer people who have already mastered it. It tends to be high-demand, because a lot of new tech makes people way more effective so you + tech can achieve 1000x more than you alone. Learning to code or do data science is suuuuuper scarce and high-demand right now, and I think almost-everybody could benefit from those things if they're willing to give them a try.

But coding and data science aren't the only ways you can "tech up": another really strong one is becoming a genuine expert at a commonly-used piece of software. Think about the pieces of software you use every day: instead of just "getting by," could you truly master them? Google Sheets, Trello and other pieces of software have huge amounts of capability that most people don't access. There are hundreds of youtube videos teaching you how to improve at spreadsheets or Trello or anything else you could dream of (just go to YouTube and write "[software name] tricks" or "how to use [software name]" or something like that). After that it's all just practice.

Another way to develop a scarce skill is to look for the intersection of two areas which combine to create extra value, but which are not commonly found in a single person. E.g., stereotypically, a lot of people who are good at maths don't like writing, and a lot of people who are good at writing don't like maths. So if you write about maths you can potentially have a scarce and high-demand skill even if you are not that good at either maths or writing.

There are a bunch of personal/psychological/management skills that are scarce and in-demand: being reliable, having good judgement, being comfortable processing ambiguity and uncertainty, being really really good at reading people, being really good at managing projects, etc etc etc. I have nothing very smart to say about these, except that if you can cultivate those skills (and convince other people you possess these skills) you can definitely use those to progress in your career.

One useful exercise when trying to identify scarce, high-demand skills to cultivate is to list all the activities you currently do in your job (which for most people these days is about 100 different things) and ask yourself which of them creates/created the most value. Which of them was most crucial to the success of projects at work? Which of them did your colleagues most appreciate / most enabled other people's successes? If you got abducted by aliens tomorrow, which of the things you do would be most missed or hardest to replace? None of these questions are perfect –– there might be high-value things you do that aren't properly valued by others, or there might be things you've done that are very high value but you've set up such good processes around them so if you disappeared tomorrow they would still keep running perfectly –– but focussing on these kinds of questions can help you figure out where you're creating the most value. Those might be areas you can focus more on to create more value and progress in your career. (But you can also look at things that you've never done before... the options are limitless!)


If you’d like more in-depth thoughts about developing scarce and high-demand skills in order to develop your career, check out the work of Cal Newport such as “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”