10x people exist. There are people that have 10 times the productivity and impact of their peers.
However, contrary to many misconceptions, 10x people often don’t do all things 10x better. Instead, they are often found doing 10% of things 100x better than average (or more, even).
Here’s some examples of behaviors 10x people do.
They Operate Well In Foundational Areas
Big, early decisions have a major impact. For example - make the right decision, the software system scales two orders of magnitude with little maintenance; make the wrong decision, you end up playing whack-a-mole for a decade.
The point is this: especially in early, high-growth environments, decisions about how you move forward can have results that vary tremendously. You’re pouring the foundation that you are very quickly going to build a skyscraper on top of. It’s a place for 10x employees to earn the designation.
Examples of 10x behavior include:
- Hiring the right people
- Firing the right people
- Picking the right tech stack
- Writing good foundational scaffolding that others will build on top of
- Choosing the right product limitations
- Choosing the right persona to build for
They Solve Really Hard, Gross Problems
Another area where 10x people show their worth is in solving really hard, gross problems. For a sexy enough problem you’re going to get a bunch of smart people wanting to solve it. But every company has an abundance of grimy, unsavory, get-in-the-mud-and-thrash-your-way-forward problems that very few people have both the drive and the ability to solve. 10xers can shine in this environment.
- Effectively iterating on a critical legacy system to get it modernized and more featureful (read: not rewriting from scratch and not just solving the fun parts)
- Streamlining nuanced and complex communication and project management efforts across teams and departments
- Managing dysfunctional teams that own critical systems through major personnel and culture shifts
Most short-term career optimizers would avoid or abandon these missions. For many, it’s a much higher expected value to leave a project or leave a company then sink effort into one of these efforts. However, for the people who can pull these off, the rewards can be majorly outsized.
They Leverage Experience
The final place where 10xers shine is in places they have deep experience. Especially in software, we’ve become accustomed to such a rapidly changing ecosystem. It’s easy to forget that, in some places, deep experience can put you eons ahead of your peers. Examples include:
- Sophisticated math-based engineering
- People management
- Tech that hasn’t changed materially in decades
- Systems that people have been working on for many years
There are often cases where deep experience mean a 10xer can get a job done, or a solution crafted, in a way that someone without that ability could never do. That’s not 10x - that’s infinitely more productive.
- If you’re a manager, know the places where 10xers shine and make sure you have them in those spots. As a general rule of thumb, the more complex and long-reaching the effort, the more 10x employees are going to do 10(0000..)x work. Everybody is about the same when it comes to things like rote tasks (except for when a 10xer automates those things). Stated otherwise, it could be argued that 10x aptitude is a myth, but 10x pairings of skillsets and opportunities exist, and you’d better have the right people on them.
- For yourself, realize where 10x leverage exists and focus there. You don’t have 10x the aptitude of your peers, but you could deliver 10x the impact, depending on where you focus.