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Trump’s Talent Stack: Systems versus Goals - Dilbert Blog

Trump’s Talent Stack: Systems versus Goals

This post will make more sense to the people familiar with the systems-versus-goals idea in my book.

One of the most powerful systems I have seen involves layering one modest skill on top of another until the effect is something special. For example, I combined the following modest skills into a cartooning empire:

1. Artistic talent (mediocre)

2. Writing talent (simple and persuasive, but not Pulitzer-worthy)

3. Business skills (Good, not amazing)

4. Marketing and PR (good, not great)

5. Social media skills (mediocre)

6. Persuasion skills (above average, but not Trump-like)

I could go on, but you get the idea. I intentionally combined skills to make myself more valuable in a variety of ways that I couldn’t predict. That’s a system.

Notice that I don’t waste time acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I don’t know anything about ancient Greek history or music theory or astronomy. But those skills would not work well with the stack I have created for myself.

This brings me to Donald Trump, of course. What I saw in him back in August – aside from his persuasion skills – is a talent stack that is optimized for exactly what he is doing right now.

Individually, most of his skills are average or a bit above. But viewed as a whole…holy shit. Let’s take a look at Trump’s talent stack.

1. Raw intelligence (opinions vary, but smart enough)

2. Business skills (plenty of failures, but better at business than most of us)

3. Public speaking skills (He’s no Martin Luther King, but very good)

4. Vocabulary and speaking (4th-grade vocabulary but still effective)

5. Ability to withstand criticism (Thin-skinned at times, but very good)

6. Sense of humor (Good, but not Seinfeld)

7. Negotiating technique (Great, but lots of people are great negotiators.)

8. Strategy (Great lately, but not always great in the past)

I could go on, but you see my point that Trump is a collection of good-but-not-special skills that sum up to something powerful.

When you see criticisms of Trump, people tend to go after his averageness on one or more of the dimensions of his talent. Those criticisms are often accurate, but they miss the forest for the trees. Trump’s power comes from his talent stack, not from any individual skill.

Back in August, when I first noticed Trump’s powers of persuasion, I could see how those powers were the expression of his talent stack. To be clear, Trump has GREAT technique for persuasion and negotiating. But that greatness is the sum of less-great parts that happen to work together like a well-oiled machine.

For example, notice how many times he uses his sense of humor to deflect criticisms, including his now-famous Rosie O’Donnell quip at the first debate. He couldn’t have pulled off that persuasion maneuver without the humor dimension in his tool kit.

We also observe Trump wading into topics guaranteed to generate withering criticisms. The ability to go into that sort of situation and know you can survive is a skill that I learned in the Dale Carnegie course. Resistance to embarrassment is a learned skill. I don’t know how Trump learned it, but he has it. And that gives him extra persuasion powers too because he can touch more third-rails than the average person and survive.

I could write an entire book on how Trump combines his average talents to achieve extraordinary results. But I think you can see for yourself how well they fit together. 

A dependable tell for a systems-thinker as opposed to a goals-thinker is lots of failures along the way and lots of big wins too. Every time Trump ran for president and lost, he gained experience, name recognition in a new field, and important connections. Observers who see life from a goals perspective saw a three-time loser on his way to losing a fourth time. Systems thinkers saw a systems thinker acquiring experience and power in exactly the right way to maximize success.

If my predictions on Trump are accurate for reasons other than chance, it is because I recognized Trump’s talent stack as something special, especially when it comes to persuasion.

To bring this back to you, it means you can learn all the rules of persuasion but you can’t use them as effectively as Donald Trump uses them unless you have all the other talents in his stack plus the Trump reputation behind you. It might be more accurate to see Trump’s persuasion as a result of his talent stack and not as a separate talent in itself. 

When you learn to see the world in terms of systems, not goals, everything comes into focus.

Here’s the link to my book again, in case you want to increase you own talent stack.