The Rising Returns to Focus

And the accelerating rate of paradigm turnover

Quick note! It’s not too late to join us in the mountains of Wyoming on Memorial Day weekend for the 4th annual Other Life retreat (formerly known as Based Mansion lol). This is the first time we’ll have an experienced nanny/sitter, for anyone who wants to bring the whole family. She will watch/entertain kids for 5hrs on Saturday and 5hrs on Sunday—while the adults convene to think, discuss, compare notes, and chart the future of our ideas, projects, businesses, and families. My wife and I are bringing our 2yo. If you’ve been following my work over the years and you’re interested in similar themes, then come connect with a circle of individuals and families interested in the same things you are. Together we’ll think, walk, eat, drink, discuss, and make plans to secure our mental, financial, and technological independence for decades to come! Bring your spouse and kids, or take the kids and give your spouse a restful weekend. Fortune favors the bold! Sign up here. Reply if you have any questions.

It stands to reason that focus is becoming the sine qua non of modern survival, insofar as leverage for virtually everything will continue to increase, in ways that will be enticing but disastrously confusing.

If you can focus on doing any one thing well, simply learning and incorporating technology as it appears, you will probably do very well. But this will not be obvious at all because every few months there appear to be new asymmetric opportunities.

Consider this succession: the creation of Bitcoin, the emergence of a creator economy, the creation of Ethereum and DeFi, and now the LLM breakthroughs... In about 15 years, we've seen several social-technological opportunities where each one could have easily justified a career change.

Many people made wise decisions reorienting their careers into these new spaces. At the same time, what acceleration really means is that the rate at which such new opportunities emerge is itself increasing, which leads to a paradoxical decision landscape. Weirdly, it now feels like there is zero incentive to "switch" into anything that comes along because the thing that comes a few months later will obsolesce the first switch.

Note also that for every person who improved their life dramatically by pivoting to crypto or AI, there is a huge silent group who spent the past 15 years toying with every shiny new toy that came along. Many of these people are worse off than they would have been had they simply bet bigger on their original thing, constantly looking for new technological leverage rather than new and alternative markets or milieus.

Say you were a middling tailor with a brick-and-mortar shop in the year 2009. The economic foundation of your career is probably being destroyed by well-known properties of the modern clothing market. With the benefit of hindsight, what would have been the best possible strategy in 2009? "Learn to code," get involved with startups, learn how the Bitcoin protocol functions, and brush up on machine learning to prepare for the future? Of course not. It's obvious in retrospect that this would not have been the best strategy.

Consider if, in 2009, you just said:

“Tailoring is my comparative advantage and, although my current business model is doomed, I know that winning will probably involve me using my one comparative advantage. So this new YouTube thing? OK, I'll just upload my tailoring knowledge there. This new Bitcoin thing? OK, I'll just buy some. I'll keep my middling company afloat however I can, and I'll just make sure I get whatever asymmetric exposure I can get through my comparative advantage.”

Isn't it obvious this strategy has a wildly higher expected value than the first one? Perhaps nothing is guaranteed in this world, but it’s quite likely our humble tailor would have at least a few hundred thousand subscribers on YouTube and a couple million dollars from the appreciation of Bitcoin.

My suspicion is that this principle is not just equally true right now, but even more true. Whatever your true comparative advantage is right now, as a human intelligence, that's probably your only work visa in the apocalyptic West. If you think you're going to pivot to crypto, then pivot to AI, then pivot to the next truly significant paradigm change, you're going to get paradigmed to death by technological acceleration. You'll wash out as average, and average won't survive. But if you simply submit to getting great at one thing currently seen as "average" or even below average, you have a better chance of bouncing from one paradigm to the next with positive returns.