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No matter what you do for a living, you're facing significantly more competition than your colleagues did a decade back. You're no longer up against professionals only in your region. You're now competing with experts around the globe. Never before has it been simpler for clients and hiring managers to identify the best in your field and invite them to collaborate.

But there's a silver lining. Because if you do manage to differentiate yourself in valuable ways, positioning yourself as the Pavarotti of your profession, the rewards awaiting you are exponentially greater than those available to the stars of previous generations.

So, how do you achieve that level of success? One major piece of the puzzle involves cultivating the ability to learn quickly so that you can continue to master new skills.

In a world where expertise is a moving target, the ongoing pursuit of knowledge is imperative to getting ahead. Staying on top of new innovations and professional trends is no longer just for go-getters—it's a basic requirement for staying relevant.

Of course, the right kind of learning does much more than just help you stay current. It also bolsters your creativity, empowers you to pluck valuable ideas from adjacent fields, and enables you to acquire a unique combination of skills. Over time, those factors add up, multiplying your chances of making meaningful contributions and enabling you to stand out from thousands of other professionals in your field.

In the past, education was the domain of academia. Today, traditional education can't keep up. By the time an important innovation is even mentioned in a classroom or online course, chances are it's already several years old. Educational institutions were simply not designed for a world of rapid innovation.

The upshot is clear. In today's fast-moving, highly competitive landscape, enterprising professionals need a new approach. One that enables them to grow their skills on an ongoing basis, frees them up from waiting on educators, and empowers them to stay on top of vital developments in real time.

Which brings us back to the one place on Earth where the majority of professionals are self-taught: Silicon Valley.

* * *

Steve Jobs never forgave Bill Gates for Windows.

Nor was he willing to concede an inch during their showdown. No matter what zingers Gates had at the ready, Jobs was convinced: Windows would never have existed had Microsoft not been developing software for the Macintosh.

Back in Apple's boardroom, Jobs deflects Gates's stinging comment about Xerox. Changing the topic, he asks for a private demonstration of Windows. Gates consents. A few minutes in, Jobs delivers his verdict.

"Oh, it's actually really a piece of shit," he announces dismissively, feigning relief.

Gates is all too willing to allow Jobs this brief victory, this opportunity to save face. "Yes," he tells Jobs, "it's a nice little piece of shit."

Less than a decade later, Windows would dominate the market, becoming the most successful operating system in the world. Apple, meanwhile, was hanging on by a thread, its business in shambles. By 1997, Apple was on the verge of shuttering its doors when a last-minute investment, a $150 million infusion of capital, kept it afloat. That money came from none other than Bill Gates.

Still, Jobs was merciless toward Gates. He couldn't help himself, especially when invited by reporters to comment on his rival. "Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything," Jobs explained to his biographer Walter Isaacson. "[It's] why I think he's more comfortable now with philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas."

His bitterness notwithstanding, Jobs would eventually get the last laugh.

In 2005, both he and Gates were invited to the birthday celebration of a Microsoft engineer. Jobs was there as a favor to the engineer's wife, a longtime friend, and came grudgingly, reluctant to share an evening of wining and dining with Bill Gates. What he didn't realize was that this dinner party would fundamentally alter the future of Apple.

Eager to impress his boss, Microsoft's engineer proceeded to describe in great detail a project he was working on and how it was about to revolutionize computers. It was a tablet—one, he suggested, that could render laptops obsolete. He went on and on about the device's elegant design, its practicality, its portability. He was especially proud of a stylus that came with each unit and made it simple to use. At one point, he teasingly suggested that Jobs consider licensing his work because this device was going to change the industry.

Outwardly, Jobs played along. Inside, ideas were percolating.


INTRODUCTION: A Secret History from the Land of Innovation

PART ONE: The Art of Unlocking Hidden Patterns
1. The Mastery Detectives
2. Algorithmic Thinking
3. The Curse of Creativity

PART TWO: The Vision-Ability Gap
4. The Scoreboard Principle
5. How to Take the Risk Out of Risk Taking
6. Practicing in Three Dimensions
7. How to Talk to Experts

CONCLUSION: Stumbling on Greatness

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