Most people believe that second rate performance is fine, and third-rate performance is acceptable. I do not, and I never have.
The more important your cause is to you, the more important you think your cause should be to the world. If you represent your cause in a second rate way, you are doing your cause a disfavor. You are also identifying yourself as a second-rater. You are announcing this to the world: “Second rate is fine, especially when it comes to the thing I believe most dearly in. You should believe in it just as dearly as I do.”
Every movement has representatives. Representation is basic to all institutions. There is a hierarchy of leadership, just as there is a hierarchy of wealth, a hierarchy of prestige, and so forth.
Not everybody can be at the top of the hierarchy in each field, although this occasionally happens. In the field of investing, Warren Buffett is at the top. There is no one else in the world who occupies this position . . . as far as we know. He is at the top in the creation of investment one-liners. “We don’t know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out.” “There are three stages of investing: innovation, imitation, and idiocy.”
In any field of performance, there is an inevitable Pareto curve. About 20% of the performers in any field will gain 80% of the attention. The vast majority of performers on YouTube will gain only 20% of the attention. There is no way around the Pareto curve.
The more radical form of the Pareto curve was announced by the great science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon. It is called Sturgeon’s Law. “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” Sturgeon really was a master. As a teenager, my favorite science fiction author was Sturgeon, and I grew up in the golden era of science fiction. As someone in the top 1% of his field, he was intolerant of second rate.
The Internet has opened up the world of ideas and public performance to people with a wide range of talents . . . very wide. When you see something on YouTube, you should look at it from the point of view of Pareto’s curve. You recognize that most of what is out there is not worth viewing. A few videos go viral, but most of them don’t. Some performances are spectacular and unexpected, but this is not normal. I think the best video I have ever seen that illustrates this unexpected nature of supreme performance is this one. It has gone viral for precisely this reason.
PARETO IN MY LIFE
From an early age, I decided that I would not participate in activities in which I had no legitimate shot at being in the top 20%. I remember only one thing from my kindergarten experience. The teacher came around with coloring sheets. I had a choice. One was Dick. One was Jane. I told the teacher I didn’t want to color either of them. I understood from an early age that art was not my field. She told me that I had to pick one of them. I picked Dick. I picked up a red crayon. I scribbled as fast as I could across the picture. I certainly did not try to stay within the lines. I handed the picture back to her.
I decided from an early age not to stay within the lines unless I had to, given the pressures of the institutional system. I also understood very early how bureaucracies work. That ability has never failed me.
I did not know about Pareto’s law, but I understood how it worked by the second grade. I made up my mind at that age to be in the top 5%. I did know what percent was, but I knew where I wanted to be.
By the time I was in high school, in academic matters, I was in the top 5%. If there was a test in which there were 20 questions, I would get 19 of them correct. Rarely did I get 100% correct. I was content with being in the top 5%. But in the field of social studies, I was the best. I knew I had a knack for that, and there I decided to be the best. As Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, a man needs to know his limitations.
In college, I dropped back into the top 20% until my senior year. In grad school, I moved into the top 1%. I began writing for The Freeman when I was 25 years old, and the next year my first book came out, Marx’s Religion of Revolution. I only got one B in grad school, and the guy who gave it to me really was a third-rater. The history department did not renew his contract. His total output in his career was one book, and it was published 29 years later.
If you stay in the top 5% long enough, and you keep pushing, you may make it into the top 1%. But don’t count on this.
My website, GaryNorth.com, is in the top 100,000 in terms of traffic out of about one billion websites, according to both Alexa and Compete.com. Before Alexa restructured its algorithm, the website was in the top 40,000. That’s high for a subscription-based website. I had no illusions that it was going to get in the top 10,000, or even the top 25,000, but I always hoped that it could get somewhere around 35,000. It is not going to make it now, because Alexa restructured its algorithm. But I am content with a lower ranking because the income is good. I am not in this for the Alexa ranking.
In the field of Christian economics, I am Warren Buffett. That’s because the competition has never been strong. I found the right niche. If you go do a search on “Christian economics,” links to things I have written will be in the top 10. Usually, you’ll find my book, An Introduction to Christian Economics (1973), in the number-one or number-two position. It depends on the search engine you use. There are usually two links to it in the top 10.
When I first decided to investigate Christian economics in 1960, there was no one in the field who was a fundamentalist Protestant. They were people who wrote for the tabloid, Christian Economics, but it was not really Christian, which I understood in 1960. By 1965, I decided to become the best in the field. I have probably devoted something in the range of 40 hours a week on this process ever since. I was not paid to do this, nor did I ever expect to be paid.
I never had any illusions about being the best person in the field of Austrian economics. I was always in competition with Murray Rothbard. So, I was shooting for the top 5%. In terms of name recognition and the volume of my output, I have been in the top 1% ever since Lew Rockwell began posting my materials back in 2000. I have about 1500 articles on LewRockwell.com. But I have a few on Mises.org.