Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

From CEOs to Opera Singers — Welcome Tim Ferriss Readers

July 28th, 2010 · 16 comments

A Clarification (3:42 pm):  A few commenters both here and on Tim Ferriss’ site seemed to come away with the mistaken perception that Michael Silverman, the exceptional student profiled in my guest post, was somehow a slacker. This is definitively not true. He worked his ass off in high school. The crucial point of my article is that Michael applied this hard work somewhere smart and likely to provide big returns — his niche of sustainability projects — instead of the same old targets pursued by most students — inching up in class rank, etc. I’m sure 99% of you came away with this impression, but it never hurts to clarify.

Hacking the Superstar Effect

I just published a guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog.  It’s titled: From CEOs to Opera Singers: How to Harness the Superstar Effect. The article, which is based off one of the major sections in my new book, details the science behind the Superstar Effect — being the best at something provides disproportionate rewards — and then describes a corollary that is often leveraged by relaxed superstars — this superstar bonus holds even if the field you conquered wasn’t prohibitively competitive.

This concept can help you stand out in a variety of settings, from college admissions to becoming CEO.

For Study Hacks Readers: This article aligns perfectly with our recent discussions of sustainable success, I recommend that you go to Tim’s site to read it.

For Tim Ferriss Readers: This blog is dedicated to strategies for building a remarkable life, which I define to be one that is both remarkably accomplished and remarkably enjoyable to live. Though the site started out focused on achieving this goal as a student, it has since broadened its scope to all walks of life.

Here are a few highlighted articles to give you a taste of what Study Hacks has to offer. If you like what you see, consider subscribing to my feed.

Articles on Building a Remarkable Life

Articles for Students

16 thoughts on “From CEOs to Opera Singers — Welcome Tim Ferriss Readers

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Great post, but man, what a lot of sycophants the commenters over at Ferris’s blog are.

    Now here’s my question: in this post and others on the Superstar Effect, you’ve emphasized that being the best even at a field no one knows anything about will trigger the ‘Superstar Effect.’ But elsewhere, you’ve emphasized becoming great at a skill *that others will value*.

    I feel there’s a tension here. Is it that for high school students, the bar on the latter is very low, so sheer ‘impressiveness’ is enough, but for adults it also has to actually be useful?

  2. Rick says:

    One of the sycophants following over here 🙂 – my question on tension comes from the Superstar Effect & Corollary and wondering if it either balances or negates Godin’s Linchpin? Is “irreplaceable” a goal here, or what appears to be the more desirable “indispensable”? I think they feed each other, but you used “irreplaceable” and it triggered this pavlovian response in me.

  3. Study Hacks says:

    I feel there’s a tension here. Is it that for high school students, the bar on the latter is very low, so sheer ‘impressiveness’ is enough, but for adults it also has to actually be useful?

    It’s an incredibly perceptive comment. I don’t have a confident answer yet, but it’s something I’ve been cogitating on for a while now. For example, within a skill that is clearly valued, like being a good computer science researcher, there is room for the corollary to apply in staking out a niche that is somewhat untrammeled yet will remain valued. How to generalize such examples, however, is a work in progress.

  4. Study Hacks says:

    my question on tension comes from the Superstar Effect & Corollary and wondering if it either balances or negates Godin’s Linchpin?

    Perhaps the best description is: “the type of person you want involved in whatever you do.” The feelings triggered by the Superstar Effect make someone feel, in a general sense, special and inexplicably impressive. In the context of a job, generating this sensation in your employers is perhaps a little different than being either irreplaceable or indispensable, though I think it aligns well with the spirit of what Godin writes about.

    (P.S. I love Tim’s readers. I’m always blown away at how quickly they jump to the plate when Tim asks for help with a good cause.)

  5. Kyle Poole says:

    I’m hoping you might take some time to reflect on what made you stand out, Cal. I, and many others, consider you as one of the best in the self help category; though I’m not sure you rose to the top following this Superstar Corollary.

    Your niche of study hacks, productivity, and self help had certainly “been done” long before you showed up. It seems to me that you gained my respect because you simply produced results in a very challenging situation. You were a PHD at MIT, while writing tips (that have absolutely helped me), while writing published books, and maybe most importantly only working the standard 9-5.

    Are you an example of hard work paying off? Lucky in a crowded field? Or do you think you formed your own niche with your unique circumstance?

  6. To me, if you want admittance into a top tier university top standardized test scores and GPA are prerequisites. There are over 47,000 valedictorians in the United States alone. These measures have become commodities.

    Rather, what differentiates you is a demonstrated passion. Applications need to be able to validate the passion through means of a resume and/or personal statement. Enter the superstar effect/corollary . Like Mr. Newport said, this does not have to be difficult. If you love guitar, get out and ship. Offer to teach lessons. Be involved in a band. Put on concerts and donate proceeds to x, something that involves music. Bring local artists together. Other examples come from Mr. Newport’s provided excerpt with horseshoe crabs or an entrepreneurial spirit and experience.

    If you like what you’re doing its not work at all.

    Leveraging the superstar effect, to my understanding, is moving the weight and playing on your ground. Actively change how people evaluate you. Don’t look at the GPA; that is boring, there are a million 3.8+, and I frankly don’t care about Puritan writing. Look here instead – at what is authentically me. Allow me to take you a couple steps off the beaten path and show you something remarkable.
    Thanks for the post, it was amazing.

    P.S. I agree that by definition, a Linchpin encompasses these ideas. Thanks for the connection Rick.

  7. Jim says:

    Is the success of your student advice blog an example of becoming impressive in a relatively unsaturated field?

  8. The tension of mion are so very badmI feel noberous and unbelievable.

  9. Study Hacks says:

    I’m hoping you might take some time to reflect on what made you stand out, Cal. I, and many others, consider you as one of the best in the self help category; though I’m not sure you rose to the top following this Superstar Corollary.

    About a year ago I made a decision that I would increase the quality of my blog posts beyond what I was seeing on other sites; e.g., produce well-researched, journalistic style articles with great attention paid to story arc, pacing, and wording. I think pushing into this writing-quality-focused niche has helped me stand out in the field.

    Rather, what differentiates you is a demonstrated passion.

    It’s funny that you used those words, as on the book cover of my new book I say “demonstrating passion” is meaningless!

    Early in my book, I make it clear is that your grades and scores determine what schools are even a possibility. Everything I write about focuses on actually getting into those schools once your academics qualify you. The art of doing that is subtle — which is why I wrote a whole book about it!

    Is the success of your student advice blog an example of becoming impressive in a relatively unsaturated field?

    I think so. As I mentioned above, bringing higher writing standards into the online space helped me reap the benefits of the Corollary.

  10. Ryan says:

    I’m reading your book now, some overlap with this blog but fresh ideas nevertheless.

    As i understand it, one must be “interesting”. By interesting do you mean different. Since getting the attention of someone usually means something out of norm is happening. Like the headlines copywriter love to use to get attention.

    And something out of norm can mean many things…for example.

    1) Defies logic (how can a 25 cent drugs save me from the by pass surgery?)
    2) Defies pattern/norm (he finish college in 3 months instead of the normal 3 years?)
    3) Dangerous – well, our lives are pretty safe, if someone does something dangerous it usually attracts our attention, like the photographer who takes photo of the live volcano.

    I’m not sure if this is what you mean by “interesting” but I guess anything that captures the attention and keep it is counted as interesting.

    If that is the case, then storytelling would be one of the element of success in college admission and in life.

  11. Study Hacks says:

    By interesting do you mean different

    Nope. You’ll see in Part 2 of the book that I’m careful to make that distinction. My favorite definition of interesting is that an NPR booker would consider booking you for a 30 minute interview for an educated audience. This is orthogonal to the notion of something being normal or different.

  12. iSpy says:

    How can an author named “Cal Newport” have no books in the sizable NEWPORT Beach Public Library?

  13. anonymoushorse says:

    I read many books about studying better such as “What Smart Students Know” which made me feel stupid because I couldn’t stand going through such a long studying process.
    Since I couldn’t check out your books from the library (every title I requested online was rejected), I grudgingly got all 3 of your books.
    I wish your first two books included more examples but needless to say, they were more helpful than the other books I checked out from the library. However, I was most impressed by your most recent book. I worried that it was too late for such a book to help me but it turns out that I find it more helpful than any of your other books. I find that your concepts would be useful after getting into college as well.
    I appreciated how you addressed “passion” in your book. I still don’t know what is my passion and reading material that emphasizes passion makes me all the more worried about my future.
    I found “Cultivating a Reading Habit” (p.86) quite intriguing. Although I don’t think I read adult-level books at a young age, I had a similar experience as a high school student. In freshman year, my verbal PSAT was a measly 58. I read all those productivity manuals written for adults(GTD, etc.) in the beginning of my sophomore year. My verbal PSAT was an unexpected 72! I know that scores typically increase when you take them them a second time but it was the only score that surprised me with the change. My math, which was my best section in freshman year didn’t change at all.
    “Straight up” memorization can be made easier by reading any of Harry Lorayne’s memory books(they say the same thing but in a different format). I found most of his methods extremely helpful – except for the pegging method which involves memorizing more stuff.
    As much as I enjoyed reading “How to Become a High School Superstar,” I wish that I heard more from your own experiences as well.
    Thanks for creating this blog, I wouldn’t have bought/read your books otherwise.

  14. esther says:

    Cal – as a new reader, I’m just wondering approximately how often you update this blog/how often you anticipate updating it this upcoming year?

  15. Study Hacks says:

    Cal – as a new reader, I’m just wondering approximately how often you update this blog/how often you anticipate updating it this upcoming year?

    I don’t have a set schedule, but I tend to average around one article every two weeks or so.

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