Naval Ravikant: Specific Knowledge Is a Key to Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Almanack of Naval Ravikant" by Eric Jorgenson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does Naval Ravikant mean by “specific knowledge”? What’s his advice for developing a specialization?

According to Naval Ravikant, specific knowledge is required if you want to build wealth over time. To develop a specialization, you first have to learn the basics of communication and math. Then, you must discover where your true interest lies.

Continue reading to learn how to develop specific knowledge on your path to success.

Specific Knowledge

To create products or attract money, you have to specialize in something. Specifically, you should develop a deep understanding of something technical or creative. According to Naval Ravikant, specific knowledge in these areas is especially useful for developing products. You could, for instance, become skilled at coding and program an important piece of software that proves valuable to society. Software, once programmed, is infinitely reproducible and so has the potential to provide significant financial returns. 

Luck and Success

While skill is important for attracting money and building wealth, as Ravikant suggests, researchers have found that it’s not the most important factor for doing so. 

Success is determined by three factors, according to experts: talent (or skill), effort, and luck. Of these three factors, research shows that luck is the most important factor determining success. This is largely because many things outside of your control can profoundly influence your ability to be successful—for example, where and when you were born, your education level, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. 

For instance, in Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that Bill Gates became a successful programmer because of skill and luck. Gates was able to hone his coding skills and capitalize on them largely because he was born at the right time in history and happened to live close to one of the most advanced computer labs of his time. Were it not for such fortunate accidents, Gates may not have achieved his unique success. 

To develop a specialization, Ravikant offers two pieces of advice: 

First, learn the basics of math and communication. Across all domains of knowledge, certain basic skills apply: simple calculating skills (for example, the ability to competently add, subtract, multiply and divide) and the ability to communicate clearly. So no matter what area of specialization you pursue, make sure you constantly hone these basic skills. 

(Shortform note: Ravikant’s advice on improving your math and communication skills is backed up by other experts. Studies suggest that basic math skill (numeracy) corresponds with wealth: In general, people with higher numeracy have more wealth than those with lower numeracy. Likewise, Warren Buffet believes that improving your communication skills can increase your worth by 50%.) 

Second, figure out what you’re truly interested in—what you’d learn and practice just for fun. To find this interest, Ravikant suggests you listen to what others observe about you. Family and friends can often see things in you that you can’t. They can identify your core interests even if you don’t notice them. 

Another way to discover your interests is to pay attention to your hobbies. Frequently, your hobbies are the things you’re truly interested in: If you find yourself wanting to do a certain thing in your free time, chances are, your interest will make it easier for you to become an expert.

(Shortform note: Research suggests that this piece of advice might not always be helpful: People who believe their interests should be shaped by instinctive passions often abandon those interests when they run into difficulty pursuing them. Experts theorize that when people follow strong passions, they believe those passions will provide them with endless motivation and will pave the way to easy success, but when reality hits, people quickly get discouraged. In contrast, people who believe interests can spring from small sparks of passion rather than strong passions, and that those interests should then be purposefully developed and worked at, are more likely to stick with those interests through tough times.)

Naval Ravikant: Specific Knowledge Is a Key to Success

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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