In a 1981 paper published in the American Economics Review, the economist Sherwin Rosen worked through the mathematics that explains why superstars, like Pavarotti, reap so many more rewards than peers who are only slightly less talented. He called the phenomenon, “The Superstar Effect.”
Though the details of Rosen’s formulas are complex, the intuition is simple: imagine a million opera fans who each have $10 to spend on an opera album. They’re trying to decide whether to buy an album by Florez or Pavarotti. Rosen’s theory predicts that the bulk of the consumers will purchase the Pavarotti album, thinking, roughly: “although both singers are great, Pavarotti is the best, and if I can only get one album I might as well get the best one available.” The result is that the vast majority of the $10 million goes to Pavarotti, even though his talent advantage over Florez is small.
— Cal Newport (2010) “From CEOs to Opera Singers – How to Harness the Superstar Effect”
The Superstar Effect once explained is simple to get, but of course hard to do: it’s hard to get at the top and to compete to be the superstar.
But the article is also about “hacking” the Superstar Effect. In fact, Cal adds a corollary:
The Superstar Corollary
Being the best in a field makes you disproportionately impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known.
The concept might seem strange but again it’s quite obvious to understand. However I’ve got an issue about this.
It doesn’t make things simpler.
Even if we are going to assume that it’s completely true, it’s still quite hard to be such a person. In some ways, it’s even harder than being the first of the class, because the first of the class needs just to “follow the orders”, while to be the first in your field you have to build your own path.
And that’s a talent by itself, exactly like being the best at something.
But still, if you consider the suggestion in a smaller, daily dimension, it can be inspiring. Cal adds that to facilitate your effort you should:
- Sloganize: the field you want to conquest must be precise and easy to explain (communication and focus).
- Apply the 1000$ wager test: check if you’re willing to bet 1000$ about being able of succeeding in 6 to 12 months. If not, then you aren’t maybe ready and you have to build up a bit more before trying.
- Negations diligence: instead of hard-work doing one thing, try just not doing other things.
The part about sloganize reminds me the theory of social representations by Moscovici and a core step to create an efficient communication of what you’re doing – because without communication power you won’t be a superstar: unfortunately the point is that talent alone isn’t enough.