As someone who lives in Europe and has been quite exposed to its culture, I can attest to the fact that from the perspective of entrepreneurship, many people are stuck in an overly-rigid mindset which revolves around extreme specialization and tunnel vision. The idea that if you are an engineer who specializes in Component A of Product A, then that is your "territory" and you never venture outside it. When faced with criticism, many of those who embrace this modus operandi are quick to reply with an answer in the realm of "Jack of all trades, master of none" and point out that in their opinion, chasing after two rabbits will result in losing both (to borrow another saying).
Can We Blame Them?
No, not really, especially in light of the fact that in the industrialized world, this approach... well, worked. You had a job in let's say a factory, did your best day in and day out so as to ensure that the factory in question mass produces Product A day in and day out. Mass consumption, mass production, for those of you who remember a popular cartoon from our childhood days.
However, things change, so business models need to be tweaked accordingly. And what better mega-trend change facilitator than the digital age, one which revolves around internet users exploring more and more diverse opportunities? Mass consumption, mass production is no longer enough in a world where more and more people embrace their individuality and consume accordingly.
As praiseworthy as an engineer who built a career around 20th century industrial models may be, it's important to come to terms with the fact that in the 21st century, we need to embrace a more permissive framework and being a one-trick pony no longer cuts it in many industries. Thanks to the many game-changers brought about by the internet we all know and love, "Jack of all trades, master of none" can be successfully replaced with "Jack of many trades, master of all" in many situations.
Michael Saylor's Perspective
Since we've mentioned engineers, it makes sense to yet again revert to Michael Saylor's DomainSherpa interview, where he shared his two cents about this topic as well. As an MIT-trained expert, he is definitely someone who knows everything there is to know about the previously mentioned engineer mindset. All in all, his arguments tend to be precisely in the spirit of this article: the idea that in 2020 and beyond, being an engineer and never anything more is just no longer enough if you are serious about making the most of the various opportunities the internet puts at your disposal.
In his view, it is equally important to be a poet so as to see the big picture through a lens which goes beyond what you have been conditioned to use by your professors, mentors and so on. Otherwise, those who are more willing than you to embrace originality and think outside the box will step in and steal opportunity after opportunity from right under your nose.
The same way, however, it makes sense not to get stuck in the "poet" mindset either and to articulate this viewpoint, he remembered that at one point in time, he visited a building masterminded by one of the top architects worldwide... his pride and glory. Unfortunately for the architect in question, the project was a total flop in terms of usability. With curved edges everywhere that were meant to impress other architects, the average visitor was left with a rather confusing experience, one which even made some physically ill to such a degree that the owners of the building had to implement a few tweaks which made the overall experience less likely to cause dizzy spells. To put it differently, the architect was so focused on being a "poet" and impressing his fellow elites that he completely overlooked basic usability principles any "20th century" engineer worth his salt would have quickly pointed out.
Digital Assets: When Engineers and Poets Join Forces
The perfect storm involving engineers joining forces with poets has arguably been facilitated by the internet in general (for obvious reasons which revolve around it never in the history of mankind being easier to communicate and collaborate) and digital assets in particular make the importance of this tectonic shift obvious.
For example, building a portfolio in a manner similar to what Michael Saylor has done ultimately HAS to be some kind of combination between being a poet/dreamer (seeing opportunities that others are oblivious to due to excessive rigidity) on the one hand and being an engineer on the other (understanding that to maximize results, it makes sense to invest in domains which meet a clear set of commerce-related criteria).
The same way, we have other examples such as Rick Schwartz, a person who has done very well in sales throughout his career... certainly well before the ascent of the commercial internet. By leveraging his business/sales experience and also adding the visionary dimension to the mix, he was able to navigate sometimes-turbulent waters and build a portfolio which stood the test of time. And make no mistake, the waters of domain investing are oftentimes turbulent, with fad after fad deteriorating the industry's signal to noise situation and making many investors spread themselves too thin.
How many domainers bought 50 mediocre "fad" domain names at $500 each because they saw them as 50 lottery tickets rather than invest $25,000 in just one stellar domain, only to ultimately be disappointed by the fact that end user interest is just not there and nobody was lining up when it came to making offers which at lease facilitated a break-even outcome? As pretty much anyone in this industry can confirm... quite a few, definitely too many. Some have reversed course and learned from their mistakes, whereas others became disappointed in the industry and decided to simply move on over the years... outcomes abound.
Are There No Rules in the Digital World?
In light of the fact that opportunities abound and that people have amassed fortunes through a wide range of creative business models online over the years, many beginners make the mistake of assuming that everything goes in the digital world. After all, as long as you have a dream you believe in and are willing to work hard, all of the pieces will automatically fall into place... right?
No, not quite.
A lot of times, the dream you believe in may sound great on paper but ultimately fail on the empirical validation front. As an economist, I can attest to that first-hand because in our field, some of the world's most brilliant mathematical minds have created impeccable models that received praise across the board. There was only one problem: when the time to "export" these models to the real world came, they failed miserably. Simply put, they were empirically invalidated and the exact same principle is valid in the online world. By all means, have dreams and believe in them but do not be too rigid to listen to what the real world has to say about your ideas. Unfortunately, empirical validation is definitely not something you can bypass... not even in the online world.
On the ambition front, as great as it may be that you are ambitious and willing to go the extra mile to ensure you reach your goals, please remember one of the top rules of time management: in the absence of a coherent decision-making framework, ambition will only help you get to the wrong destination faster. As such, while ambition is definitely an excellent superpower to have and enables you to do very well in life, it needs to be kept in check because otherwise, it risks doing more harm than good. Yet another metaphor which makes it clear that yes, there are rules involved and that not even impressive ambition can enable you to bypass them.
At the end of the day, it isn't difficult to articulate a clear conclusion to this article. Now more than ever and with the internet in the spotlight, it is important to be willing to go beyond even the best models of the 20th century and understand that the game has changed. Consumption habits are changing, communication is changing and... ultimately, people are changing.
If you are open-minded enough to be along for the ride rather than choose to remain stuck in the (sometimes comfortable) past and manage to find the right balance between tapping into your potential as an engineer as well as poet, words cannot begin to describe how well-positioned you are to be a long-term winner. Needless to say though, this is easier said than done and pitfalls abound, so being CAUTIOUSLY optimistic is the name of the game... let your inner engineer keep your inner poet in check, in other words!