4 min read
Opportunity is often analyzed and considered statically - that is at a specific point in time. We make great pains to look at access to opportunity for a specific event, but rarely at its time dynamic.
The ability to have access to the same opportunity over time provides redundacy for failure.
- Single point opportunities are fragile. They exist momentarily and only once. If you do not succeed, then there isn’t a second chance.
- Redundant opportunities are robust. They exist momentarily, but repeat in some fashion again under the right conditions. If you do not succeed, you can eventually try again.
Having only one shot vs. several makes a huge difference in the way one can take advantage of opportunity. It also changes the amount of risk we can take. While we cannot control how opportunities are presented to us in life, we can take a look at how opportunities are afforded systematically and how they change the dynamic for participants.
Changing careers is daunting because it is significantly harder than it needs to be. Careers are often perceived as single point opportunities. Once you get into one career track, then it’s off to the rat race. Those who have successfully made the switch have found a way to turn single point opportunities into redundant ones largely by rebranding themselves into a hireable version for their new career. Schooling is often the main provider of “rebranding”, but many simply do it on their own through pure, painful hustle.
Knowledge is rarely the determining barrier to changing careers. Knowledge and skill gaps do exist, but conditional on overcoming them, many jobs remain closed simply due to the constrained nature of the opportunity. For example, many beginner jobs only hire undergraduates within a year of graduating. If you’re not in this opportunity bucket, then the door is closed. With the chance to train as a beginner gone, the only other shot is to become an experienced hire which is quite difficult given that you’re actually only a beginner yourself.
Growing fields make their job opportunities redundant. Shrinking fields keep their opportunities single point.
Part of the reason why so many people are changing into developers and designers is because job opportunities in these fields are redundant. You can become a developer whenever. High salaries also help, but there are plenty of other careers that pay just as well for arguably less training effort. You don’t see people rushing to switch to management consulting. This has nothing to do with knowledge or salary. Rather, it has to do with the fact that consulting firms constrain their opportunities to single point ones. If you don’t make the undergrad or MBA cut, chances of getting in are extremely slim unless you can swing an experienced hire.
Places that have thriving entrepreneurship scenes are ones that provide redundancy for enterpreneurs.
Silicon Valley has a lot of things, but notably it has a culture of redundancy for tech founders. Starting a company is perceived positively, regardless of the outcome. Job opportunities to join big companies remain even when founders fail. Because of this rather informal safety net, people can take more risks in Silicon Valley than they might somewhere else. The ability to play again makes all the difference.
Other areas seeking to mimic the Valley’s entrepreneurship grounds often fail to address this part. Capital, space, network are often implanted into an ambitious new area and offered at low operating cost, but the opportunity itself is largely a single point one. Starting a company is already an extremely risky enterprise. If entrepreneurs fail in the new area, there is often little recourse as to what they can do next. This dynamic makes places without this redundancy a rather unattractive place to start, even if the other resources exist. Without some kind of redundancy, you will need to have a significantly higher risk tolerance to try.
Credentials are a way of obtaining opportunity redundancy.
College degrees, brand name companies, and prestigious awards are ways of obtaining more opportunity redundancy. Obviously it is entirely possible to become successful without going to college, working at a big name company, or winning any awards. Getting a credential isn’t about success; it’s about creating some level of redundancy around your opportunities. A college degree, for example, is not strictly an insurance policy as it does not guarantee you a job, but it does prevent opportunities from closing for a little while.
Credentials are not a form of success, but obtaining them is not irrational. Credentials are valuable as a form of risk management. Getting the right ones means you enable some level of redundancy for yourself. To some level, credentials can be determined useful to the extent they provide redundancy. Good ones will provide it and bad ones won’t. Depending on your personal portfolio, a credential that may be somewhat useless to another person may be useful to you.
The world is changing faster than ever. Jobs, education, media, tech are shifting at an increasing pace. The implications of this acceleration are hard to predict because the returns to those changes are extremely variable. Knowing that software will increasingly penerate other sectors and make its way into nearly all jobs does not mean we know how it will affect the economic returns of the people in those jobs, except that it will develop greater variance. Who nets out a winner and who nets a loser is extremely hard to identify a priori.
Predicting changes is often done for the purpose of trying to design the best fit for future static opportunities. You want to know what to do now so you can optimize for the opportunity later. This is difficult at the personal level, but doable. It is effectively impossible at the greater scale of society. Even if prediction were possible, the focus on static opportunities makes the strategy extremely fragile. If you are wrong, then what happens?
The task of prediction at scale is not really necessary if we instead build for opportunity redundancy, which is significantly easier and likely more effective. Being able to access opportunities multiple times gives people a chance to adapt. This doesn’t mean that people do not need to prepare or should have access to infinite opportunities (there are always a finite number of chances available to each person, simply because we are bound by time). It does mean that individuals now have some trial and error at their disposal.
Failure happens. It’s a question of what happens after.
If you fail and lose too much in one sitting, then it’s game over. If you fail and lose, but still retain enough to survive, then you can play again.