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The cost of things that require zero talent

mark_nicol profile image Mark Nicol ・4 min read

Back in June last year I wrote some notes to myself about some lessons I wanted to learn and things I wanted to try.

I'm a long way from feeling that I've solved a lot of the insecurity and lack of confidence that drove me to write this, but the notes have helped me, they might be useful to someone else as a starting point and so they somehow felt worth sharing here.

I think the biggest lesson or suggestion I can offer is writing things down can sometimes be helpful.


This all started with various copies of a list called “10 Things That Require Zero Talent” that did the rounds back in June 2016. It struck a chord with me because one of the big things I realize back then was I use as an excuse is that other people are far more talented than me. Could it be that this is a list that would be helpful?

I don’t feel qualified to talk about what they all mean or how to tackle them for yourselves — if you want to read one of the many articles by coaches and motivational people such as

But it did strike me that one thing people don’t talk about is how to look at the cost of doing these.

General Thoughts on time and effort

I feel I need a model for this so I’m going to assume a couple of units ‘Fux’ that measures how messed up my life is and ‘Spoons’ that measures how much attention I can give to things in a day.

Learning or Relearning: Initial investment in spoons results in more ‘fux’ in the short term, but the payoff is that over time investment in spoons is rewarded by a reducing level of ‘fux’, reaching a zero point where things are no worse than when I started and then ‘fux’ start to go down for each additional investment of spoons.

Diminishing Returns: Each spoon invested reduces the level of ‘fux’ but by less each time till eventually it really isn’t worth investing any more spoons.

Straight Investment: Each spoon reduces one ‘fux’ and while there may be diminishing returns at some point the graph is essentially flat for the range I’m interested in.

The important point that seems to get missed is the slope of these graphs is different for everyone and so is the number of spoons everyone starts the day with, and indeed these vary from graph to graph depending on skills and abilities.

The list — and my own plan

1. Being on Time/Showing Up on Time / Showing Up Early

I can certainly do more of that. Aiming to be early and arriving on time is far better than being late. The useful investment of spoons seems to be in prep, having backup plans, and being able to use the time hanging around better.

2. Work Ethic

This seems to come down to being trustworthy, which in turn comes down to being someone who removes more ‘fux’ than they generate. Here I need to unlearn some things which are going to take effort. Communication and Honesty seem low cost

3. Effort

In this model, this is spend all the spoons and do so wisely. Creating a lot of ‘fux’ is not a good use of spoons. So listen and review.

4. Positive Body Language

I struggle with interacting with people a lot. Being decent and honest seems sensible. I think my body attitude communicates how I’m feeling — so it is easier to try and be genuine and positive than to fake it. Confidence is worth an investment of spoons but that is going to be a big one.

5. Energy

I don’t think this really is a thing that takes zero talent. It also is a bit smug to assume people have the same levels of spoons. So this may come back to trying to improve my overall level of spoons so that I can spend them more freely throughout the day.

6. Attitude

OK I make the choices where my spoons are spent. There is an element of suck it up on the days when my spoons are all gone but I shouldn’t resent anyone else for how I feel. The fair thing is to not make others spend spoons they don’t need to just because my own spoon level is low. Appreciate I’m working with a bunch of people with radically different spoon levels. In which case offer them a spare spoon any time I can.

7. Passion

Spare spoons for the things I care about. If I want to learn new stuff that will take spoons. I’m not ever sure about the if you don’t feel passionate don’t do it line. Passion is a spectrum — the more it matters the more effort it is worth.

8. Be Coachable/Always Learn

Listen to feedback from others. If they can help me spend spoons more wisely or to create less ‘fux’ then great. Feedback means someone else has spent a spoon on my ‘fux’

9. Doing Extra

There are only so many spoons — but be generous with them and if I can clear a lot of ‘fux’ for a small investment of spoons that is better than leaving it to someone for whom it is more expensive or who may be out of spoons.

10. Being Prepared

Review and learn. Plan ahead to get through the day with the fewest ‘fux’ and some spare spoons if I can.

Again this has turned out a very introspective piece. If it is of use ‘lovely’, if not I’ll leave it here as notes to myself.

Discussion (2)

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Mark Nicol Author

That's a super way of looking at it. Thanks :-)'