I’ve had the privilege of meeting several people this week who are at the very top of their field or domain. It’s been a good reminder of how sharp you have to be to compete at that level and how crucial it is to be deliberate in all of your choices.
But something that strikes me the more people like this I meet is how clearly you can see them leverage that one special superpower. You know what I mean — it’s that random quirk that has always come naturally to you and therefore just gives you a slight edge early on in your life.
Maybe as a kid you had a great photographic memory when studying. So as an adult you get better and better at this thing until you can recall faces, names and pedigrees to an impeccable degree. You become a best-in-class networker and executive talent scout. Along the way, you picked up the nuances of what it means to be a good VP of Marketing or CTO, but none of your peers come anywhere close to your ability to recall names and skillsets of candidates like you can.
I met someone like that this week. And watching her go through the mental exercise out loud was incredible to watch.
Or maybe you’ve always been the most technically minded person you know. You can debug most code and demystify most algorithms with just a few minutes of swift processing. Over time, you might morph this into a custom vetting solution to assess the technical viability of other software products. You can tell in a minute whether a technical team is truly differentiating, if their approach is without holes, or if a particular company is the strongest viable competitor in their peer set. While many others can do this too, nobody can compete with the completely bespoke problem solving approach in your own brain.
The more senior you become, the more all-around knowledge you accrue. But in these true domain experts, there also seems to be a high degree of self-awareness that compels them to “double down” on that special something only they possess.
So much so that I’m starting to think, if you can never hone in on what that “edge” means for you, you may never get to the top of your craft.
What I can’t tell if it was always an edge for these people. If they were just born a little bit smarter or over-indexing just a little bit more in one particular area. Or if all of us naturally possess some edge of our own and the whole point of living our lives is to sharpen it out so we can use it most effectively.
But whatever the case may be, I hope if you know what that edge is for you that you’re using it well and honing that skill. And for the rest of us, there’s still plenty of time to iterate and test and figure it out.