Nemo’s eyes darted around. Overwhelmed, he finds safety in a skull, a prop in the fish tank he’s been thrown into.
When we first begin exploring our personal monopoly, we’re all like Nemo fresh to the fishbowl. All the existing players in the field appear so established and daunting, how are we ever going to stand out? Yet, like Nemo with courage, we can take risks and make an impact.
How can Nemo and a few of the sharpest minds of this generation teach us about personal monopolies?
David Perrell defines Personal Monopolies as “our unique intersection of skills, interests, and personality traits where you can be known as the best thinker on a topic”. But what benefits does it provide?
To understand the value that is derived from having a personal monopoly, we turn to Seth.
Seth Godin, known as the GodFather of Marketing within the US, in his book, Embracing Your Weirdness, explores how society moved away from mass produced products to desiring something more personalised to them:
The road to weird started with the royal court and the printing press and the capitalist’s desire to find a niche without easy substitutes. As soon as merchants discovered they could make a profit by being different, they began to work at being different…
The calculus has been fundamentally and permanently altered: You succeed by fueling and feeding the things we used to call niches, not by enforcing normalcy, however you define it.
What Seth is denoting here is that because humans have different desires, there is an abundance of opportunity for those who provide something that few else do. He goes on to elaborate:
There’s a long tail of channels, and at least one matches every person’s precise definition of weirdness (if there’s no match, go ahead and start another channel). The result of this is a cycle that encourages customized, optimized interactions that push people to be individuals, not to fit in.
And it’s this concept of power-law curves and long tails which is so important to understand.
Using the image above of a power-law chart we can visualise how creating a personal monopoly is dependent on this concept.
Within any domain this chart exist. There will be a market leader, the most known source, followed by multiple slightly smaller competitors, which is followed by additional competitors and so on.
An example of this is streaming services. Netflix has the highest number of users, followed by Hulu and Disney, which is followed by Amazon Prime and Apple which is followed by HBO Max and so on.
However, power-laws apply to all fields, meaning anytime you apply a new filter, a new power-law curve is created. For instance, if we applied the filter of who is the top streaming service for cartoons Disney becomes the leader, followed by Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Another way to look at this is where Nemo ranks amongst the highest grossing films ever. For all movies ever made, it might be in the top 1000, for every cartoon movie, it rises to the top 100, for every Disney cartoon it rises into the top 10 and for every Disney cartoon with fish as a protagonist, it is number 1.
The key to finding your personal monopoly is to apply the right filters.
But how do you find yours?
Naval, known for founding AngelList and as a modern day philosopher uses the term ‘specific knowledge’ synonymously with personal monopoly. In his well-renowned tweetstorm on ‘How to Get Rich (Without Getting Lucky)’ he describes it as the following:
“[specific knowledge] is found by pursuing your genuine curiosity and passion rather than whatever is hot right now…
“Building it will feel like play to you but will look like work to others…”
“When it is taught it’s through apprenticeships, not schools.”
“Specific knowledge is often highly technical or creative. It cannot be outsourced or automated.”
Each of these descriptions allude to how your specific knowledge is defined by your experiences.
We know from Seth that your personal monopoly is defined by the filters you apply. Naval’s belief is these filters are created through the experiences we have. Why?
If the originality of an idea depends on the obscurity of the sources, then the creativity of a person stems from the diversity of their experiences.
For instance, at the beginning of Nemo, Marlin was a clown fish who never left the Great Barrier Reef. He was anonymous in the ecosystem. However, by the end credits, after exploring the ocean and experiencing interactions with sharks, turtles and jellyfish, an adventure like no other, he transforms into a celebrated figure.
So how do these experiences fit together to create the right filters?
We can turn to David.
David introduces us to an acronym C.U.E.S which provides an overview of how our skills interact with our experiences to create your monopoly.
The C stands for Complementary: To find synergy across your attributes. For Nemo this is swimming and being brave.
The U stands for Unusual. To combine skills you rarely see together. If we take Nemo’s ability to swim and be brave despite having his ‘lucky fin’, he is differentiated from almost all other fish.
The E stands for Experimental. Similar to Naval’s message above, these are the unique events in your life, your tacit knowledge. Your skills influence your experience, so for Nemo his bravery and his ‘lucky fin’ are a key to his experience of escaping from the fish tank.
The S stands for Specific. The aim here is to have an abundance of knowledge in a specific area. From Nemo’s experience above, he has extensive knowledge of life in a tank, a foreign experience to fish in the ocean.
Through C.U.E.S we see how Nemo’s skills shape his experiences which shapes the specific knowledge he has. This is the thread that makes a personal monopoly and specific knowledge synonymous.
Ultimately, the key to finding your personal monopoly is to apply filters and those filters are determined by the experiences you have. What experiences make up your filter?