What do you want to be famous for?

I am one of those people that hates being pinned down to a specific job.

It’s much more interesting being involved in lots of things, flitting from project to project. You see more, feel like you have more influence and simply get more done.

But – when someone asks you point blank what you do, it’s hard to come up with an answer.

A company faces the same problem – only the scale of the problem is different.

To get ahead, you need to specialize

“I, Pencil”, Leonard E. Reed’s famous essay, talks about how when free people work on things they can do well a miracle happens.

Somehow, a pencil gets made from a lot of people doing their own jobs all over the world.

So – the first thing to consider is whether you ARE famous at something, or whether you CHOOSE to be famous at something.

If you choose to do something you are good at, then you are useful to other people. If you choose to do everything, it’s hard to find other people who will work with you.

In economic terms, even if you can do everything better than everyone else, it makes sense to only work on the things you are best at. When you do that, everyone is better off.

Here’s some math to show how that works.

Let’s say you have two people: Bob and Jane.

Jane and Bob can do two things. They can make boxes and grow potatoes.

Jane can make 10 boxes a day or grow 10 potatoes. If she makes 5 boxes, she can also grow 5 potatoes.

Boxes are worth 2 credits and potatoes are worth 1 credit.

Bob can make 7 boxes a day or grow 5 potatoes.

Should Bob just sit back and let Jane do all the work?

Well, in one day, Jane could make 10 boxes, making 20 credits or grow 10 potatoes, making 10 credits. If she did 5 of each, she would end up with 5 boxes worth 10 credits and 5 potatoes worth 1 credit each, making a total of 15 credits.

Bob isn’t working – so he makes Zero.

The total output of this little economic world is between 10 and 20 credits, depending on how Jane spends her time. It can never be more than that.

Now, let’s say Jane says to Bob that she will do 5 potatoes and 5 boxes, and he should just grow potatoes.

Jane makes 15 credits as before. Bob grows 5 potatoes and gets 5 credits.

The total output is 20 credits – the same as Jane working on just boxes – the same as the maximum she could make working alone.

Now, let’s say Jane works only on boxes – and lets Bob grow potatoes. Now, she will make 20 credits and he will make 5.

The total output is 25.

So, although Jane is better than Bob at everything, by focusing on what she is good at and letting Bob work on lower value work, the overall amount of production and value has increased.

So – the answer is that it is good to specialize and be famous for something specific.

And this takes us back to the title of this article – what do you want to be famous for?

Build your business around that and you will be successful.