Disparate Value

If I could just get my cat to wash the dishes and mop the floor, I’d have a cat worth millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter that you can hire someone to do the work for several dollars an hour. If the cat did it, it would be special and worth far more. Any sort of animal, for that matter.

Does that mean that the cat’s work is intrinsically more valuable than mine? Not in the slightest. In fact, it’s not as safe to have the cat do housework. Cats aren’t skillful homemakers. My cat has no proven track record, nor does her species. Who knows when she will tire of the work and start breaking stuff. She has to take naps every few hours. For the same work, a person should be paid far more than a cat.

Why then, is the value the cat commands so disparate, so far in excess of that of a normal person? Simply because it’s packaged in a unique, original, unheard-of form. People will pay you big money if you can do something that no one else can do, even if it’s totally useless. What real value do clowns contribute to the world–besides entertainment? If everyone is paid by the intrinsic value of their worth, clowns would get nothing.

To harness the power of disparate value, you need to be doing something that is eye-catching, entertaining, and different. It’s easy to have negative, disparate value. Just break a few limbs, and then see how hard it is to work efficiently. If you go to the bookstore and start ripping the covers off books, they really aren’t worth any less. There’s no unique information on the cover that the books’ contents cannot be without. All the informative and practical value remains untouched. Yet try selling them next to the others–or for any price at all, and you’ll see how disparate their value is. For no logical reason.

It’s easy to think of situations that will generate positive disparate value, which is a far better place to be at. Say I’m a typist. I type 75 words a minute, accurately, swiftly, and without losing focus. That’s a pretty good skill, but I’m not special. Lots of other people can do what I do.

Now let’s say instead, through some magical forces, I type 750 words a minute. When I type, all you see is a blur because my fingers are moving so fast, they disappear. The screen floods with text. If I was paid $10 for my efforts at 75 words per minute, would $100 be a reasonable pay at 750 words per minute?

Nope. I’m worth more than the aggregate of my efficiency. I could provide my services to businesses that need last-minute transcribing, at a high cost. Perhaps $1000 an hour would be more reasonable.

But in reality, I’d make far more for my talents, perhaps millions. Think of all the television shows and magazines I could be featured in. I could start a course to share my talent with others. Even if it was impossible to share, there’d still be plenty of followers who would gladly waste their money. The value (money) I can demand is disparate to the raw value of my services.

Let’s say I can only type 100 words per minute, but I can also play the piano, tune a guitar, write moderately-good articles, ride a skateboard, build houses, paint, draw, create websites, and do electrical wiring. All these things I do moderately well. Perhaps even better. If my mastery is quantifiable, I’m above 90% of the crowd with all these talents. Does that make me more valuable as a typist?

Not in the slightest. I may be a dynamo and a fascinating person, but those are worth nothing on their own. I’d be better off if I could have all my other skills erased from my brain, and replaced with the ability to type 750 words per minute. From a monetary standpoint, at least. The reason I keep coming back to money, is that it’s our primary means of representing value. Typing 750 words per minute should not trump an arsenal of normal skills, but it does.

If the Mona Lisa is worth $100 million, does that mean a painting 1% as good is worth $1 million? Nope. If I can define something 1% as good as the Mona Lisa, it’s a painting that you couldn’t even give away. 1% is not enough. Even a work of art 75% as good would not be worth half as much. One razor-sharp knife is worth more than a hundred dull knives.

Excellence is exponential. On a scale of 10, going from a 9 to a 10 is hundreds of times harder than going from a 1 to a 2. Anyone can go from a 1 to a 2. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. But if you can make the jump to the top of the mountain, you have something of true, preferential value. Oftentimes, it’s better to pick one skill. One feverishly developed skill. You’re so good, you make everyone else in your niche look like piles of garbage. The problem I find with this, is that it doesn’t feel right to pick one skill. That’s why most people don’t do it, remaining uneventfully ordinary.

The best way, however, is to develop a suite of skills that all play off each other rather than being disparate. The underlying connections between them create a wall of strength rather than islands of weakness. Chaos theory in action. Often, this is the same as developing one skill, but from a different angle. This is easier said than done. In fact, it’s harder than becoming a one-hit wonder. But it’s a true path, a road you can look to every day with eager anticipation. I can never feel the same passion for practicing scales and songs all day long, or taking pictures from dawn to dusk. Picking one path is the best way to harness disparate value, but it isn’t human. People aren’t meant to stick to one thing. We think about everything: we ponder, analyze, reflect, multi-task, pray, think, forget, lose focus. Animals don’t do this. They work all the more efficiently for it.

All the things that “waste time” are actually our strengths. They endow us with our own disparate value separate from everything else in this world. I’m happy to be a human rather than a cat, or a bird, or a flea. Once you become happy and committed to your existence, you can leverage disparate value to unlock exponential growth. I’ll be with you.

One thought on “Disparate Value

  1. Pingback: Disparate Value « Personal Development by Richard X. Thripp

Comments are closed.