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In any weapon training, when you learn to shoot, you need to align three points – the back of the rifle barrel (‘backsight’), the front tip of the rifle (‘foresight’), and the target’s center. Seems pretty straightforward.

But next comes a problem — our eyes can focus only at one given distance, and the objects closer or more distant are blurred.

So here is the question: Where should your eyes be focused? Backsight of the gun, its foresight, or the target?

Most of us will guess ‘target.’ And that is the wrong answer. 

Your focus should be on the foresight so that you can align it well with the backsight, while the target is loosely in the background. Turns out, correctly pointing the barrel in the general direction of the target is far more critical than ensuring that it points exactly at the bulls-eye. Even a 1-degree angle deviation of the barrel will take you massively off target. 

But why is this relevant? 

It shows that even in something as simple as shooting a weapon, there is insight you get only when you go deep into the subject. 

Our winner-takes-all world

Compared to weapon training, today’s information economy is vastly more complex. In this economy, whatever field you get into, be the guy who knows where to ‘focus the eyes’; in other words, build the insight and depth others are missing. And the reward for depth is hugely disproportionate. 

In almost any field, be it software engineering, technology, or even marketing, shallow knowledge is a commodity but deep insight is priceless. The value of a top software engineer’s work (and his salary) is not 1.5 times that of a mediocre engineer, but probably 10x or 100x. 

Because of technology, people with depth and remarkable skill can have a vastly disproportionate impact on the world. Let us say, a blogger who puts in X amount of effort has 100 readers. Another equally talented blogger, who puts 2X effort to make his blogs more informative may have 10 times as many readers rather than twice. 

Most authors struggle to sell even a thousand copies of their book, but JK Rowling sold 500 million copies. In his book ‘Black Swan’, Nassim Taleb explains this eloquently as ‘extremistan’, a winner-takes-all world where the top guys corner all the rewards. 

The bigger point is that the true determinant of massive success is superlative quality, which almost always comes from deep knowledge and insights, which in turn requires deep, focused effort. 

How to keep raising the bar 

Here is my suggestion: Don’t be in a rush. Whether you are a programmer or a marketing man or an author — be really good. For that do two things: 

  1.  Schedule time for deep, focused work daily. Do one thing at a time, without interruptions or task-switching. Use this to go deep into your subject and learn it to a level that others won’t even dream of. 
  2. Do deliberate practice. Every time you learn, try to push yourself just a little bit beyond your current knowledge — don’t plateau out. (Let me talk about deliberate practice another day — it is a fascinating topic and I want to do full justice).

If you can do that, as a professional, you will become indestructible.