The Trump Talent Stack
The Trump Talent Stack
November 28, 2016
As I explained in my book, there are two ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to become the best at some specific skill, the way Tiger Woods dominated golf. But not many of us can be Tiger Woods. So that path is unavailable to 99% of the world.
I recommend a different approach. Most people can – with practice – develop a variety of skills that work well together. I call this idea the Talent Stack.
For example, I’m a famous syndicated cartoonist who doesn’t have much artistic talent, and I’ve never taken a college-level writing class. But few people are good at both drawing and writing. When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value.
Now consider president-elect Trump. He doesn’t have one talent that is best-in-the-world, but he does have one of the best talent stacks I have ever seen. Consider all the ways in which Trump is better than average, but not best-in-the-world. I’ll list the obvious ones.
Public Speaking: Trump is an engaging speaker, and he knows how to entertain a crowd. But no one would say he’s one of the best speakers in the world.
Humor: Trump is funny. But he isn’t Seinfeld funny. He’s just funnier than most people. That’s all he needs.
Intelligence: Trump is smart. He probably wouldn’t beat Hillary Clinton on a standardized IQ test, but he’s smarter than 90% of the world, and probably far more. That’s good enough for a talent stack.
Knowledge of Politics: Compared to career politicians and political pundits, Trump looks under-informed. But he probably knows more about politics than 95% of the public. And that seems to be enough. Advisors will fill in the knowledge gap.
Branding: Trump is a world-class marketer and brander. He probably isn’t the best in the world at those things. But he’s very, very good.
Hiring and Firing: One of the most important skills a president needs is the ability to hire good advisors and – equally important – fire the mistakes. Trump has plenty of experience doing both. He probably isn’t the best in the world at hiring and firing, but I’ll bet he’s in the top 10% just from practice.
Strategy: Trump won the presidency in large part because his non-standard strategy worked great. He focused on free media, big rallies, and the key swing states. That was good enough to win. Trump probably isn’t the best strategist in the world, but he’s very good.
Social Media: Trump understands social media in a way that people of his generation usually don’t. Trump might not be the most Internet-savvy politician of all time, but he’s definitely in the top 10%.
Persuasion: Trump might be the most persuasive person I have ever observed in the act of persuading. But keep in mind that persuasion requires a talent stack too. Trump is persuasive because he combines a bunch of minor skills into one big persuasive toolbox. For example, Trump is good at reading people, good at being provocative to attract energy, and good at sales technique. He probably isn’t the best in the world at any of those minor skills, but when you add them together, along with lots of other subsidiary persuasion skills, and now the Office of the President – Trump might be the most persuasive person on Earth.
Risk management: Trump understands risk. We see it in his business dealings as he isolates different lines of business in their own corporate structures so they can fail without bringing down the rest. We also know that Trump enters businesses that have an unlimited upside potential with limited risk. And he prefers gambling with other people’s money. Trump probably understands risk management better than 90% of the public.
Trump’s critics have a hard time understanding Trump’s success because he lacks any best-in-the-world talents. They mock his simple speaking style, his lack of policy knowledge, his provocative Tweets and more. But as they criticize the trees they lose sight of the forest. Trump has no trees in his forest that are the best trees in the world. But his forest is one of the best forests in the world.
The takeaway here is that anyone can develop a more valuable talent stack. Just figure out which talents go well together. If in doubt, add public speaking to your stack first. Learn a second language if you can – but only a useful language. And persuasion makes you more effective at nearly everything you do. Those are just examples. You’re the best judge of which skills you need.
President-elect Trump might not be a good role model in terms of his personal life. And you might not care for his policies. But when it comes to a role model for success, you will never see better. Trump’s talent stack is outstanding.
On a related note, Kanye West is another good example of a talent stack. He isn’t the best in the world at singing, dancing, writing, or any other skill you would assume is necessary for his job. But you won’t see many people with Kanye’s combination of talents, including his business acumen, his drive, and his knack for self-promotion. Kanye has been building his talent stack for years. And now he’s adding politics. You probably think Kanye has no chance to be president because of his current mental/emotional health hospitalization. But you’d be wrong. Hillary Clinton proved that health concerns are not disqualifying.
I’m not going to predict a future Kanye West presidency. But if you think it is unlikely, you don’t understand the power of talent stacks. It is possible that Kanye is doing nothing in the hospital but recovering. But I like to think he is using that time to learn Spanish. That’s how Master Persuaders roll.
You can read more about talent stacks and the value of systems over goals in my book.
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