Let’s start with a thought experiment.
There’s a small business empire today around Kim Kardashian. No need to belabor the point, we recognize the name.
Think about Kim Kardashian, for a moment, not as a personality or as someone you have an opinion on, but as a business enterprise.
If you follow the conventional script, we have an idea of how her life should go. She’s famous, but she has no employable skills. So she should learn a skill, ‘make herself useful’, and then sell it. Maybe, if she’s into fashion and design, she should become an interior designer.
Based on the conventional advice, she goes to school for interior design. A few months later, she has a certificate. She opens up a small shop in LA, and now she has ‘something to offer.’ She’s able to support herself with this, and specializes further in homes and gardens.
She’s set up as a small businesswoman in LA; it pays the bills. She’s now contributing to the world with a skill she specialized in, and making a living doing it.
This, of course, is terrible advice.
It would be a huge step down from her current position. If you were her business manager, you would be fired. Speaking here in the business sense, she became a multi-million dollar cash-generating enterprise by going in the opposite direction.
In other words, the conventional wisdom for this person is wrong.
In this case, the real money is in staying fluid and avoiding easy role descriptions, living outside the lines. The real value, economically speaking, is in her role as a personality. Even that is just a catch-all for ‘a person people think about,’ in whatever way.
The point is that it’s not about the ‘skills’, or the strict value-added; that’s pocket change. The value of her as an ‘interior designer’ is nothing compared to her as an unpredictable, loosely defined, all-around ‘person of interest.’
That’s where she makes millions. That’s where the smart money is.
In other words, defining herself professionally in a specialized role that can be checkmarked neatly on a resume, from her perspective, is a bad decision. This is counterintuitive, because by everything we’ve been taught in the conventional professional narrative, it should be a good decision.
It’s a fine line. We all know about the importance of building skills, in the ways outlined above. And yet, this thought experiment is a cautionary tale. If you’re too well defined, you become boring, a cog that is so well-defined and *limited* that anyone can slide you out and replace you.
You want to have an intangible quality that comes from not exactly following the rules. There’s a mystique there that stubbornly resists complete explanations.
How do you quantify that, exactly? You can’t; that’s part of its monetary value. It can’t be mapped. It has to arise organically from the situation that springboards to it. But there is economic value, huge amounts of it, that can come from tacking away from the narrowly defined ‘build skills as we conventionally define them’ model.
Sometimes, as this little thought experiment demonstrates, the real value lies in things that evade definitions, that resist our efforts to categorize them.