Talent Stack vs. Specialization

5 minute read · Issue Number 27 · July 31st, 2020

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I want to thank you for taking the time to fill up the mid-year review I sent out last week. It's helping me to adjust the direction of the magazine towards your benefit.

As you may already know, I recently started a podcast. The concept follows two formats. The first one is short, information-dense episodes (5-10 minutes), and the second one is interesting, quick conversations (15-20 minutes) with people working in the sports industry.

I'm looking to host talented individuals working in the sports industry. If you want to be a guest of the show, send me a DM on Twitter, and we'll set up an interview!

Today's edition of the magazine will be about skills and talent in sports. How does someone become the best at something? Should you specialize in one thing, or should you be better than average in many skills?

Talent Stacking vs. Specialization

A "talent-stacker" is someone who's relatively good at many skills.

A "specialist" is someone who's one of the world's best at one specific skill or ability.

The following graphs explain the two concepts:

From a comprehensive perspective, both types provide value to the market, depending on the skills required to execute a specific task.

Specialists – also known as experts – are considered to be the top 1% at what they do. Specialists are scarce because of how competitive and crowded the path of becoming "the master of a specific skill" could be.

Most specialists were born with talent, and they developed it for many years.

Another way of becoming a specialist is by devoting your life's work towards it. Doctors, engineers, scientists, and artists are some professions where specialists produce the most high-grade work.

Nevertheless, 'specialization' is not the only path towards greatness. Alternatively, you could focus on building the highest talent stack.

Talent stack is an idea proposed by Scott Adams in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

“The idea that you can raise your market value by being merely good — not extraordinary — at more than one skill.”

The following diagram proposed by Darius Foroux exemplifies skill stacking in career building:

Skill Stacking

The theory suggests that if you can't be top 1% of a specific skill, focus on strengthening many of your talents. By doing so, you will set yourself apart, and the sum of your skills will make you valuable.


Most of the people are usually great at one skill, but very few people are great at various skills.

If you can be in the best 20% of many skills, you could be in the top 1% overall.

In today's sports world, it's tough to compete if you're just the best at doing one thing.

Even if you're the world's best in passing a ball, if you can't run, score, and do a hundred other things, you couldn't even be a pro.

The most talented individuals today in sports are the ones who can be both specialists and have high talent stacks together. That's what makes them extremely unique.

Let's see at a few examples:

Example 1: Usain Bolt

Due to Bolt's height (1.95m), he has a relatively slow start to his sprints. The first 20 meters of his runs are comparable or even more time-consuming than some of his competitors.

Nevertheless, his height also allows his stride length to have an average of 2.47 meters between steps (20cm more extended than that of most other competitors), and he maintains a high stride frequency.

It's a devastating combination for his rivals, as once Bolt is in full flight, he can gain ground with every step.

Bolt may not be the specialist in all the skills required for running, but the combination of high-quality skills makes him the fastest runner on earth.

Example 2: Mike Trout

Example 3: Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi

FIFA 20 – Messi rated higher than Ronaldo!!! - The Stats Zone

The FIFA skill cards show on a scale from 1-100 the quality of each skill of each player.

In the example above, we can see that while Cristiano is more physical (PHY) and Messi is a better dribbler (DRI), both of them are not great in defending (DEF). The sum of their multiple talents makes them the best soccer players in the world today.

Professional athletes may be at the top 1% in one or many skills, but it will be the collection of various better-than-average skills that will make them the most outstanding athletes in the sport.

Try to apply this concept in your professional career, aim to have many excellent skills instead of fighting hard to be the best at just one thing!

Until next week,

Ronen Ainbinder

Twitter: @Ronenain    
Instagram: @ronenabn28       

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