April 18, 2015

Talent Without Effort Won’t Get You Anywhere

Some of you who write me need to understand something or you are going to have a lot of disappointment in your future.  Just because you are smart, just because you have talent, doesn’t mean anything.  Your business, your career, your efforts can be left in the dust by someone who is driven to succeed, is passionate, and willing to give people what they want, yet lacks your natural ability.  

The 50 Shades series by E.L. James is one of the most godawful, terrible pieces of literary trash ever to have been penned.  Yet she actually did it.  She put in the effort.  She spent thousands of hours writing the manuscripts.  As a result, brilliant English majors in Ivy League schools are starving and she is earning $1,000,000 a week.

The lesson is a simple one: An okay finished product is always superior to a theoretically perfect concept.

Had E.L. James had spent her days comparing herself to much more talented writers, worrying about how she was never going to stack up, she never would have finished her books.  She wasn’t really a writer.  She was just penning Twilight fan fiction with a bondage theme and changed the names from “Bella” and “Edward”.  It’s so bad you’d almost believe it is satire, but that’s the truth.

If you are constantly talking about how you aren’t living up to your potential, look around at your life and try to identify your body of work.  What have you produced?  What have you created?  What can you point to and say, “There!  That is mine.  I did that.”?

Many things should have come to mind.  I have millions of words, pumping out very large sums of money, some of which I wrote when I was 18 years old.  I have private businesses I started from nothing.  I have intellectual rights from software platforms I developed that pay me money each year.  The universe did not come down and bestow these things on me simply because I am smart.

If you don’t have anything, stop complaining and go do something.  No matter how intelligent you are, you won’t get what you want if you haven’t done anything worthy of societal respect, recognition, wealth, or admiration.  Every morning when you get out of bed, you need to be thinking about building your body of work.

Personally, I recommend choosing things that are cumulative, like an annuity stream.  For example, Warren Buffett paid $25 million for See’s Candies 40+ years ago and has already collected $1 to $2 billion in profit from it.  His efforts made decades before I was born are still paying dividends (literally, in this case).  If I owned a construction company, I’d be working on building my own rental units, rather than just doing one-off jobs for other people.  The latter results in a one-time paycheck; I’d rather get money for the rest of my life.

What you do matters as much as what you know.  You cannot have one side of the equation without the other.  The world will be perfectly happy to let you waste your life, never achieve anything, and die unknown without accomplishment if you choose that for yourself.  Nobody but you can stop you from self-destruction or squandering the gifts that you did nothing to earn.

None of us are entitled to anything but what we are willing to go out and seize for ourselves.  You parents won’t do it, your friends won’t do it; you have to picture the life you want and make it happen, choice by choice, strategically.  It will not accidentally fall into place.

  • lgm

    Thanks for this article, Joshua! I am inspired!

  • Ajoke

    Ameeeeenn, Hallelujaahhh!

  • david

    Great reminder Joshua – by the way, I’m pretty sure See’s was acquired for around 25 million. Also, since you mention building things that are like annuity streams, do you think the franchisor business model is one of the best possible to be involved with – as a licensor?


    • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

      You’re absolutely right – I was thinking about Buffett almost breaking his rule of 10x earnings during that period to close the acquisition and got distracted because I was stupidly playing the Sims 3 as I looked it over before hitting publish. I didn’t realize that putting in 6 toilets and 8 sinks was going to require me to upgrade them all to self-cleaning. Thanks for catching that!

      As for franchising, if – big qualifier but if – you can be the dominant person in the industry like Choice Hotels International, Intercontinental Hotel Group, McDonald’s, and even Coca-Cola (which really just franchises the rights to bottle its products), the returns on capital can be glorious. It can make a ton of money very quickly. It’s a people problem, though. If you can’t control the franchisees, a few folks going off the reservation can destroy your brand equity.

      • Jason Spacek

        I purchased Sims 3 a few weeks ago. Did you somehow purchase the non-crap version? Because I haven’t even opened mine back up since the second or so day after I bought it.

        • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

          Once a year, Steam has a “Steam Summer Sale” where games are 50% to 90% off. Last year, I bought the Sims 3 plus a ton of expansion packs – probably $500 worth all together – for only $100 or so.

          The expansions make all the difference in the world. The seasons one makes you go through the four seasons and change all your interactions, the ambitions one lets you buy businesses, remodel them, and collect dividends once a week, etc.

          Rumor is the Steam Summer Sale is going to happen this year on July 11th, so a few days away. It’s worth trying titles you otherwise wouldn’t have because you’ll see some games that are normally $30 in there for $4. It’s crazy.

        • Jason Spacek

          Haha, nice! I think I’ll try out the Ambitions expansion. Thank you.

        • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

          P.S. This is from the “Ambitions” expansion. I bought this tiny town gym with cheap siding and only one developed level, spent hundreds of thousands of simoleons upgrading it (this is the new basement-level pool and spa I designed and built), and now it pays me something like 39,000 simoleons a week in dividends.

          It was fun sketching out the whole thing. It has a Chinese-themed reflection room, a hot tub sauna room, the pool area, the weight lifting area, the aerobics area, and improved landscaping.

          Later yesterday evening, I actually spent my time in front of a marker board valuing real businesses to make some changes to the KRIP while monitoring a magic shop I just bought in the game. I’m building an ancient Egyptian garden complete with flaming Anubis statues around a carved obelisk to inspire my customers to open their wallets for my rare and mysterious wares.

        • http://ianhfrancis.blogspot.com/ Ian Francis

          Man, haven’t played this game in a while. It is a great game, but it is the expansion concept that always kills me. I don’t really mind paying for the expansions if I am going to play them, but you play and play, buy up the expansions, adding features and things to do, then they go and release a new shiny version, better than before, but no expansions. If you want the new game you have to start all over again. It is irritating.

          It isn’t like I mind the model, but they seem to really exploit it in the Sims series. I guess I shouldn’t fault EA for doing it if people are going to pay, but it has been a deal breaker for me.

          I also get bored with it after a while. Last I left my family, the three children and two adults spent all their free time making wine for a massive wine cellar, and writing a book per person every couple days. I was making so much money, without cheating, but I realized, now what? There doesn’t seem to be anything you have to have a bunch of money for. The family already owns the town, sells bottles of wine for thousands of simoleons a piece, and makes tens of thousands of dollars a week per person in book royalties. I could go and explore other non-income-generating features, but why?

          (Actually, I did have the family go on vacation quite a bit, collecting rare artifacts and whatnot, but then once they had the money and points, I had them buy a mansion in France and now when they are on vacation they write books and make wine there too. And I did explore the invention stuff, I had one of the Sims build a couple robots who now help harvest the grapes to press the wine. They live in the servants quarters.)

        • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

          This is probably my favorite post you’ve ever written. Because I know you, and I can see you coming home from work and secretly building your vineyard empire. It makes me laugh because it makes perfect sense to me. I also imagine your houses and wine businesses were immaculately run and efficient.

          I hear you on the expansions. Had it not been for the huge Steam sale, I don’t know if I would have risked it.

          Speaking of which, you realize that Civilization’s Brave New World Expansion unlocks in 6 hours?

  • Josh Hill

    So, does that applies to EA? They have a passion of releasing the most half-baked games whether they know it or not.

    Also, Joshua, you have wrote a book before, haven’t you? I am wondering which way to go, either self-publishing or have a publisher. The book I am writing is not yet finished, but I just wanted to know what way would be best with a man with only a couple hundred in savings. The best thing I am really young and have read almost all your articles, I wrote down the important things to me so if you were to completely disappear I would have your teachings.

  • Rico M.

    Dear Joshua,

    I am an avid reader of your blog
    and it helped me tremendously on discipline on my finances. Before reading your
    blog, I am spending literally everything on my salary without any savings since
    I expect that I will have new cash by the end of the month (since I am an
    employee). For that, thanks! You helped me A LOT!!!

    I am from
    Asia as a practicing lawyer, if I intend to build a solo practice law firm in
    the near future, how do you think can I pursue a passive income stream? As you
    always say, what I intend to have is a synthetic equity type (not capital
    intensive but definitely on labor intensive on my part, which I don’t mind
    since I don’t really have a big amount of capital) that I will have passive
    income on that is scalable (I can do it one time and payment is like a stream
    and not a one-time payment) and cumulative (that I need not delve into things I
    know nothing about, something that is within my circle of competence). Thanks a

    • http://odai.me/ Odai

      I’m not Joshua, but allow me to share my thoughts with you.

      The best synthetic equity for a lawyer is surely “pro bono” work – you do work for a client for free, in exchange for a percentage of their earnings. For example, you could work (for free) on behalf of an injured person suing his company for endangering him, in exchange for 5% of his winnings. Or you could find a bootstrapped business owner, and do legal work for him and get stock in his company in exchange (and hope he’s successful).

      As far as “passive income” – if you have the money for it, real estate is hard to beat. You can even get a real estate management company to do all the work for you, in exchange for 3-8% of the rent money – making it 100% passive. Another good option is a diverse portfolio of blue chip stocks.

      If you don’t have much money to put up, you can create passive income by putting up your time and effort. An excellent choice would be creating intellectual property, like writing a book.

      Anyway, I’m not a millionaire yet, so maybe take my advice with a grain of salt. In a decade or so, we’ll see if my ideas have panned out for me.

      • Rico M.

        Thanks, Odai! If i will be able to do what I’m doing right now for the next 45 years (that is, working hard on my job as an attorney, living frugally and investing the rest of my money in blue chip stocks and hopefully in the near future, some real estate and fixed income assets), most probably I will be wealthy by the time I reach 80 years old (assuming I reach that age) and would be able afford the things that I want to enjoy. But my problem is, by the time I’m 80++, I probably would not appreciate that much the value of my money i.e., the value of traveling around the world, buying some stuff that heretofore i cannot afford etc etc. (aka the red ring problem). That’s why I need to figure out what economic engine I can use to further my goal and afford the things that I would want to afford by the time I reach at least 50 (15 years from now).

        • http://odai.me/ Odai

          Yes, the red ring problem is something I’ve been trying to solve as well. I’ve figured out that you have to break free of the limits of your own time to get rich quickly, by finding an engine the scales very well.

          The approach I’ve chosen is starting a web-based business. I like it because the amount of employees needed is minimal, since servers do most of the work. I’m also a decent writer, so I’m honing my skill and thinking of what book I’d like to write.

          I wish you the best of luck! Hopefully we can both report being successful in the near future.

  • Angie

    When you are on the verge of quitting, say this to yourself 10 times:
    ” i know i can do better, but i am consciously choosing not to ”

    Say it 10 times, and then you would BEGIN to understand what you are really about to do.

  • SuzyQ

    Just have to say this is a great article and ironic, too, because yours is a blog I go to when I am procrastinating from doing my work! Do you have any advice for staying focused while you work? I use a tool called Freedom, which allows you to block the internet for a set period of time, but as you see, here I am, commenting and not working. Gotta go!

    • http://odai.me/ Odai

      In my experience, emotional determination is very important. When you’re emotionally motivated towards your work (out of fear, anger, or whatever), you’ll get more done.

      Besides that, try reading the book “Change Anything”. They talk about the different external factors that cause people to fail at goals, and how individual drive alone isn’t enough if you’re in a bad social/physical environment.

  • Harry

    What about effort without talent, will that get you anywhere? I’m one of the most mediocre people I know, maybe even less than mediocre. I’m not trying to be humble, it’s just so. What would huge amounts of effort do for me? I’d venture to say nothing. Great advise for people who have talent, not so useful for those who don’t.

    • http://odai.me/ Odai

      I’ve thought about this subject quite a bit. I have a friend who seemingly got screwed in the DNA lottery – below-average intelligence, no talents to speak of, no physical ability. I’m not trying to be mean, that’s just the truth.

      He’ll likely never be wealthy, and his career will be a struggle. Meanwhile, there’s a good chance I’ll become wealthy without working as hard as he will. How is that fair? It’s not. That’s the only logical conclusion, is that life isn’t being fair to him.

      Still, what can we do about it? What would society be like if it were fair to the lowest common denominator? Smart people would be forced to act dumb, athletes would be forced to act weak, and talented people would never live up to their potential – all so we can feel like things are fair.

      On further thought, though, maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on natural talent – as are you. Consider this: As much as it pains me to admit, I’m not the strongest man, physically. I’m tall, but I’m also skinny. I’ve got muscle, but it’s more “toned” than “ripped”.

      Yet, I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. It took me 5 years of excruciating effort to get, and I almost sweated myself to death during my black belt test (they had to stop the test to get me a towel). I’ve beat guys who were taller, wider, and stronger than me in sparring, simply by knowing the techniques better.

      I’m not saying I’m the best – I can name at least 5 guys I know who can easily outdo me. But there’s a common theme among those guys – they all work harder than I do. 3 of them have even less natural talent, they just work much harder.

      The fact that you’re even reading this article already seems to indicate you’re trying to learn, you’re putting in effort to improve.

      • Harry

        First I would like to correct my typo “advise” and change to advice. Guess grammar isn’t a strong suit either :). But I hear your Odai, it’s just hard to take advice knowing that you’re as mediocre as they come and then come to terms with it. Trust me, I have made attempts to move in a stronger direction towards prosperity such as entering a prestigious Mba program, only to fail out. And I didn’t fail cause I didn’t try, I tried very hard. Such is life.

        • http://odai.me/ Odai

          I’m sorry to hear that. Something I’ve learned in the past few years is that you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone – so I can’t truly give you good advice, having never been in your situation.

      • Shouganai

        I’m sorry, but the above is pure language abuse.

        Life isn’t fair, the rain isn’t kind, the wind isn’t erudite and the sun does not love me.
        Fairness, if it is to mean anything, is a term used to describe how people treat each other. As such, it can only sensibly be used in the context of a social situation.
        Of course, the trouble with saying “society is unfair” is that we might be able to do something about it, no?

        Now, I’m not saying that Odai is doing this (at least not consciously) but the claim that “(something)… is natural/life” is always the first resort of those who wish to propose something evil. They wish to disguise from others that they also have a choice, the choice to oppose what is wrong. (It is also the refuge of the desperately unimaginative)
        So, his “life is unfair… society is unfair” bait and switch is only one step away from “nature is unkind, so I am unkind” – the widespread argument used by unhappy and somewhat dangerous men, at all times through history, everywhere.
        Secondly, I don’t think that many people consider fairness to be the same thing as absolute equality – in that absolute principles are utopian (and utopias always sit in seas of blood).
        In my view as society fair to the lowest common denominator would be one in which we treated people with respect no matter their abilities – which is basically what all societies are.

        • http://odai.me/ Odai

          You’re correct, in that I should have said “society is unfair” rather than “life” – I was going by the common usage of the phrase. I did use the two terms interchangeably in my above comment.

          What I’m saying is that, we exist in a scarcity economy, a world of limited resources (if time and human effort are considered resources). We reward people for producing valuable things by giving them money, which they can use to buy things that make them happy.

          Some people are born with capital that makes them able to produce more value – intellect, strength, looks, or assets their parents own. Other people are born with very little of these things.

          Through no fault of their own, no moral failing, people born with less talent and inheritance will get less of what they want in life, because they can’t get money to do what they want, because they can’t produce valuable things (at least at the same volume as other people).

          What would you consider treating people with respect? Poor people generally get the worst schools, medical care, food, and are looked down upon (don’t discount the mental suffering of that).

          Fat people are, by birth, more physically and mentally prone to obesity. Yet, it’s considered acceptable to berate and mock them, even be angry at them for no real reason. Same for ugly women, and I hate to even consider what kind of abuses the homeless suffer.

          We have made big strides forward in the past few centuries, especially since the 60’s. And maybe we’ll get close to a totally fair society in time.

          But we’re not there yet. We all play the “DNA lottery”, and some people simply get dealt a bad hand. To say otherwise is denial.

        • Shouganai

          Well, yes. Treating people with respect would mean providing decent education for all, medical care for all, decent food for all and not looking down on people, not abusing people because they are fat, etc. etc.
          I personally don’t think this should be related to what you can produce.
          So, maybe we need to improve society.

          We live in a scarcity economy if time and human resources are considered resources…
          Do we?
          Looking at the unemployment rate around the world, I’d suggest we have a bit of a surplus of time and humans with respect to current economic demand… or are you referring to the last desperate push of capitalism, as it attempts to comodify all human relationships?
          I’d say the best defence against that is to ignore it.

          The same way that we should ignore the nice, shiny, positional goods of the rich unless they happen to particuarly interest us. Many of the things the rich buy are related to prestige rather than direct consumption. Good luck to them.

          The trouble is that the rich aren’t happy with being rich. They want me to be poor.

        • http://odai.me/ Odai

          I was referring to the concept of scarcity in economic theory. I think the best explanation I’ve seen is from PBS’ Idea Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klQ7bb8bBsQ

          You make a good point about the unemployment rate. I’m not sure what to think of that.

          I think there’s a substantial segment of the rich who enjoy lording over the poor (and middle class). At the same time, I think that segment has been steadily shrinking for centuries, because of improved communication tech leading to the overthrow of monarchies and class systems – examples would be the US and French revolutions, Gandhi’s social movement, and the Arab Spring.

          I really think the technological singularity will happen by 2045, and will possibly result in a post-scarcity economy (ref. the PBS video above). I am concerned that lots of people won’t be alright with all humans being equally wealthy, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Still, it’s fun to think about.

        • Shouganai

          Yep… fingers crossed!

  • Robert Williams

    Just amazing, I can not stress how awe inspiring this post is. Thank you.