Friday, October 31, 2014

Are you Superman or Batman ?

One of the privileges I have in my life is that I get a front seat to experience the struggles of myself and my fellow classmates. This 3-year reboot has allowed me to do some serious thinking about the nature of success. This is not so much an analytic exercise, but I see this as more akin to a religious experience.

One phenomenon I notice in campus is the kind of quality people attribute to their personal conception of what success looks like. For folks who really are into personal development, this is very similar to Carol Dweck's notion of the fixed versus growth mindset.

Let us look at the Superman model.

If you believe in the Superman model, your model of success is effortless in Nature. Legends will always tell of some mysterious senior who can drink, party and not study but still get into the Dean's List every year. One of the more ludicrous stories I hear is of a top Law Student who claims that she can throw her books aside on Friday only to pick up her books when the week begins on Monday.

I am very skeptical of this model.

Yes, there will be superstars at school or at work, but there will always something that debunks the Superman model once you get to know these superstars. Some may sacrifice their personal lives, others have a battery of coaches or may have even found a way to outsource their lives to virtual assistants in India. Some may just have an awesome environment to hit the books since they stay in District 10.

The reason why I am skeptical of Superman model is that people who know how to manipulate power practice sprezzatura. Top students in NUS have this irritating habit to make their success seem effortless to sustain this myth of their abilities. Makes them sexy and superhuman. Some go through horrible lengths to get their peers to drink with them in discos only to spend the whole evening mugging to keep themselves in the Top Honor rolls.

In the world of work, the Superman model is the Super-Manager, the great CEO who rockets to financial independence by clawing their way up the ladder. These guys do exist, but they are one in a million.

The question we really need to ask ourselves is what happens if we really have no talent ?

I propose the Batman model. Or if you have a villainous bent, you can call it the Lex Luthor model.

Success is no accident. Batman can't beat Superman in most engagements because Batman is not an alien from Plant Krypton, he can't fly, does'nt have super strength and x-ray vision. He's just a dude in a black nipple suit with a low voice.

But Batman is awesome because he is a superb strategist. He anticipates the move of his opponents and ensures that every weakness will be exploited to the fullest. He's worked hard to train in martial arts and has an array of gadgets to level the playing field.

The Batman model assumes no talent. If you want an edge over Superman, you have to marshal all your resources and work hard to attain your goals. You need to know Superman's weaknesses and have a suitcase of kryptonite ready if you really need to take the Man of Steel down.

Nowhere else is this found in investments.

The Superman model assumes that a superstar analyst exists who can pick out magical stocks and attain financial independence without any effort. The Batman model assumes ordinary market returns, then conscientiously saves and invests based on tried and tested factor variables.

Of course, just because we have two mental models doesn't mean that we can always strategise and plan our way to victory. Adopting Batman's strategies, I have spent my entire life getting my as handed over to me by the Supermans at study and at work.

Sometimes talent does indeed beat hard work.

That's why after a trouncing, Batman can always console himself in the arms of the Catwoman.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Everybody hopes to have at least a little bit of Superman in them. =)

    It's really hard to know if you yourself is a Superman so I guess the best strategy is to employ the tactics of Batman and see how far that can get you.

    The best people I have seen and met are Superman who works hard like Batman. Incredible combination.

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