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Talent Stack — Or How to Get Paid for Being You

A powerful concept every online entrepreneur should know.


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Nabil Alouani

3 years ago | 6 min read

Talent Stack is a fancy way to say “Combine a bunch of ordinary skills in a way that makes you extraordinary.”

The term was coined by cartoonist Scott Adams who happens to be a great example of talent stacking.

Adams is by no means exceptional at any particular skill. But he can draw a little bit, he’s decent at writing, and he knows how to crack a joke. You put these three together and you get Dilbert, one of the most iconic cartoons of all time.

Dilbert is a comic strip featuring the dark side of corporate culture — including toxic management, useless meetings, and bizarre office politics.

It first aired in 1989 and skyrocketed during the late 90s when office humor became mainstream. To give you an idea of the resulting success, note that at some point, 2,000 newspapers from 65 different countries were publishing strips of Dilbert every single day.

And of course, each Dilbert appearance grew its creator’s net worth a little bit bigger until it reached $75 million in the late 2010s.

When people ask Adams for success tips, he systematically says that goals are for losers, passion is overrated, and luck can be manipulated.

Instead, he suggests that:

“All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.”

Why does Talent Stack work?

The short answer is it helps you stand out.

The slightly longer answer involves an example.

Let’s say you’re a decent basketball player and an okay writer. Let’s also suppose you love marketing and read a ton about it.

Instead of trying to become the next Michael Jordan, the next J.K Rowling, or the next Seth Godin — good freaking luck with that — , you can aim to become the best blogger who explains marketing using basketball analogies.

The idea is to escape competition by creating a very specific niche.

“But niching hard like that would never work,” you might say.

Except it does. If you are interested in a weird combination of topics, the law of large numbers says that other people will share your interests. Sure, your audience might be 1 in 10,000 but there are billions of people on the internet and you can virtually access every one of them.

Besides, you don’t need a million prospects to make a living.

If you have 2,500 faithful subscribers who can each pay you $2 dollars per month, that’s a $5,000 salary.

I don’t know about you but for me, that amount solves a lot of problems.

Where should you start?

Start with your personal interests.

It may sound ultra obvious but, 99% of the successful people out there are interested in what they do. Whether in Silicon Valley or on YouTube, they’re not killing it because they have prestigious diplomas or secret productivity tools.

They’re killing it because they turned their personal interests into money.

Elon Musk has always been into computers and science fiction. Oprah Winfrey has always enjoyed speaking on stage. Lionel Messi has always loved soccer.

What seems like work to others feels like play to them, which makes them unstoppable. No one can beat Elon Musk at being Elon Musk, no one can beat Oprah at being Oprah, and no one can beat Messi at being Messi.

Similarly, no one can beat you at being you.

That’s why the best way to decide what to put in your Talent Stack is to follow your personal interests.

Fine, but how do you monetize your interests?

“Follow your interests and you’ll get rich” seems too good to be true and it is. Your personal interests are mere hobbies unless you turn them into skills wanted by the market.

If Musk made ugly cars with zero autonomy, Tesla wouldn’t be worth hundreds of billions today. Oprah wouldn’t have gone far if talk shows hadn’t become a wild trend on TV. Messi would’ve ended up working a 9-5 job if brands weren’t pouring millions of dollars into soccer championships.

They all developed skills that allowed them to serve specific needs in their respective markets — and said markets were happy to pay them for it.

The question, then, becomes: How do you identify a skill that’s wanted by the market? The answer is: observe your industry.

I’ll speak for the one I’m closest to.

The most useful skills for online entrepreneurs are email marketing, web design, writing, video editing, graphic design, code, no-code, interviewing, speaking eloquently, and digital art. (Let me know if I missed something)

Once you find a skill that feels like a natural extension of your curiosity, work on it until you become good enough to use it in professional settings.

Okay but there’s another question that needs answering. How much time do you need to acquire a new skill?

Twenty hours of deliberate practice. Yes, 20.

No. I haven’t made that number up. There’s solid research behind the 20-hour rule and if you’re interested in the details, I’ve written about it here.

For now, let’s say that you trust me and move to an example where I summarize the five steps you can take to master a new skill in less than 20 hours.

A concrete example

Suppose you’re still that decent basketball player from earlier, who’s also passionate about writing and marketing.

You saw “email marketing” in the previous list of skills and decided to take a shot at it. Your monetization idea is to grow a paid newsletter where you share basketball news and interesting deals (like discounted sneakers, tickets, and jerseys).

Your objective now is to learn how to launch a newsletter. From a Talent Stack perspective, email marketing is a new talent you’ll later combine with the initial two that are basketball and writing.

Now, let’s get practical.

Below are five specific steps that will allow you to pick up the new skill during the promised 20 hours of practice.

  1. Break down the skill you want to learn into sub-skills that you can focus on one at a time. With email marketing, you can start by designing a landing page then move to campaigns and finish with automations.
  2. Learn just enough theory to be able to notice your mistakes and correct them. Get practical as soon as you can. Watch one or two YouTube tutorials on how to design a landing page using a tool like Mailchimp or Substack. Then play with the tool until you get it right.
  3. When you practice, shut down distractions to allow yourself to maximize the learning experience. You hear this everywhere for a reason. It fucking works.
  4. Pre-commit to a minimum of 20 hours of deliberate practice whatever happens. This will help you overcome the initial frustrations that come from sucking at doing something new.
    The idea is to tell yourself: “Look, dear me. Whatever happens, I’ll give this 20 hours of practice, then we’ll see.” This will help you bite the bullet and power through negative emotions.
    I promise that by the end of the 20 hours, you’ll be super proud of yourself.
  5. Space your learning sessions to allow your brain to rewire itself and integrate the new skill. Practice for 45 minutes four or five times a week and move from one sub-skill (like designing a landing page) to another (like designing email automation).

If you follow each one of these steps, you’ll learn almost any new skill in less than two months. You can cut the duration down to one month if you practice every single day.

From there, repeat the process with a couple of complementary skills and voilà. You’ve created a unique Talent Stack that will allow you to create your own niche and out-compete everyone.

Get paid for being you

Most school systems are outdated. They were designed to produce obedient factory workers and devoted white collars. Many students are still told that pursuing their interests is a useless distraction and that creativity will never pay the bills.

Perhaps such a system was valid 50 years ago but in today’s world, it makes zero sense.

We live in the golden era of content creation and online business. Turning your interests into a unique Talent Stack can get your further than any diploma. It worked for Scott Adams back when the internet wasn’t cool, and I believe it can work for you now.

All you have to do is monetize your curiosity.

Until next time.
Nabil out.

I send weekly business and decision-making tips to my email community. There’s a gift for newcomers. Also, we’re cool. Join us.

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Nabil Alouani

Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."


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