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## Everyone can be a world champion at SOMETHING

Magnus Carlsen is the current world chess champion. He’s the best in the world at something. Not that many people can make that claim, can they?

Then again, there are lots of things in the world that you could be best at. Whistling, lemur training, lemon-pie-making, juggling, lying, rock climbing, sleepwalking. Somewhere in the world, there is “the best in the world” at each of these pursuits. Maybe my chances of being best at something are not so bad, after all? Maybe I just have to find the right thing…

Consider the modern pentathlon. In this sport, athletes compete in five events—fencing, shooting, swimming, running, and horse jumping—to achieve the overall best combined score. The winner need not be the best at any one specific event, but must have proficiency in all five.

Let’s say I am in the 99th percentile in all five events: very good, but not world class. [Here I am assuming that I’m in the 99th percentile of all humans, not just people who fence.] Taken individually, I wouldn’t have a prayer of making the Olympics. For example, the 99th percentile in épée fencing would still mean that there are

(0.01)^1 * 7,000,000,000 = 70,000,000

people with a similar proficiency around the world. Doesn’t seem that impressive, does yet? But I’m in the 99th percentile in all five events, right? So in reality there are only

(0.01)^5 * 7,000,000,000 = 0.7

people like me. That is, there’s just me. I’m probably the best at this combination of events. I should medal in the modern pentathlon.

And this brings me to my broader point. If you can think of five events in which you are in the 99th percentile individually, then in all likelihood you would be world champion if these events were combined into a single composite event. For those scoring at home, here’s where the number five comes from:

(0.01)^N * 7,000,000,000 = 1 (a single champion)

N ln (0.01) = ln [1/(7 x 10^9)]

N = [–ln (7 x 10^9)] / [ln (0.01)] = 4.9 ≈ 5

Let’s take my own skill set and see how I would do. I am certainly in the 99th percentile when it comes to physics. (Remember, I am comparing myself to the general population, not just physicists. I would never claim to be in the 99th percentile of people with physics PhD’s.) I am probably in the 99th percentile when it comes to chess (considering that I am in the 85th percentile for tournament players based on an 1800 rating). But am I good, really good, at anything else?

I will claim without proof that I am also in the 99th percentile (among the general population) in the following additional skills:

• Knowledge of classical music
• Playing the recorder
• Geometry

Remember, I am not claiming any particularly high proficiency in any of these things. I just claim a 99th percentile rank in the general population. And individually, any one of these skills would only put me in the company of some 70 million others.

But now: make a hybrid event, where competitors have to take a battery of tests on physics, geometry, and classical music, then perform on the recorder, and then play chess… I believe I may do well in such an event. I might even be world champion.

Of course, nothing is that simple. I have ignored the fact that some of these skills may be correlated. Anyone who can play the recorder will probably also know about classical music. And many physicists will also be good at geometry. This means that my competition will be stiffer than I suppose, since if the events aren’t mutually exclusive then I’ve calculated the probabilities incorrectly. But I can improve my chances by making the five events as disparate as possible. I might change “Geometry” to “Movie Trivia”, for example.  My chances of becoming world champion would thereby be increased.

If you think that “99th percentile” is too high a bar, we could lower it to 90th percentile. Most people are in the top 10% at several things. Redoing our calculation, we get N = 9.8 in this case. So if you can find ten things you’re fairly good at and combine them, you too can be a world champion.

Of course, you also have to convince the Olympic governing body that that particular concatenation of events is worthy of a medal. But hey, that’s your problem.

I have some geometry to do.

### 9 Responses

1. “I have ignored the fact that some of these skills may be correlated”

I am very glad you acknowledged the problem of correlation. For your math to be correct in your pentathalon/decathalon, you should not underestimate the importance of needing to measure skill events that are completely independent. That will not be easy. For over 30 years in my work I have been surrounded by dozens if not hundreds colleagues who arguably each possess skills in the 99th percentile in multiple categories (tops in multiple academic disciplines, superior physical and sports prowess, broad geographic and cultural knowledge, politics, management, leadership, artistic endeavors). Whether by good genetics, hard work and determination, fortune of time, place and family of birth, or pure luck I hypothesize, at the very top, there is a large cohort of people very, very good at a very, very many things. You might call it an “elite class”, but I tell you they exist. I am certain you are one of them but you are not alone. You might need to measure achievements at a higher, perhaps the 99.99th percentile, level for separate 5 events if you really want to argue you can be a world champion given what I think is a larger peer group than you may be considering.

• I agree. Maybe that’s a topic for a second post. This started, however, as a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and so I went with my initial calculation rather than investigate too deeply. By the way, I wonder what your five would be? “Cardiology, US Army administrative protocol, the Sillmarillion, …?”

2. I think if you substituted 80s NBA trivia for playing the recorder that would increase your odds. I think a lot more people can play recorder than know 80s NBA trivia. As for me, I’d also have to go with chess, then divorce law in Maryland, Richard III, existentialism, and eating Big Macs. I doubt there are many divorce attorneys in MD who can beat me in chess. The Big Mac skill weeds out all the vegetarians, health nuts, and people who won’t eat beef. RIII and existentialism are obscure but they probably correlate somewhat to chess.

• “chess, then divorce law in Maryland, Richard III, existentialism, and eating Big Macs” Call this the Modern Martinothon. I would pay to watch this competition. You’d be world champion for sure. BTW is that RIII the Shakespeare play? Or the historical figure found in a parking lot?

• Discussion topic: biggest difference between divorce in NC vs. divorce in Maryland: go.

• I did my high school colloquium on trying to prove that RIII was tarnished by history and not a villain. The play contributes more than anything else to what people think of him, so that would be included too. I’m not so sure I’d win. Undoubtedly there’s an Oxford professor who knows a lot more about RIII than me. Even if that person knows nothing about the other topics, he or she will probably score in the 90s against the general population. It may all come down to the Big Macs! I’m ready! As for the second question, unless something has changed in the last few years, NC still has alienation of affections and retirement accounts are valued as of the date of separation rather than the date of divorce. OTOH, adultery is still technically a crime in MD.

3. I like David’s list….the individual events on the surface seem to have low minimal cross over. However, for all I know, there just might be a “Baltimore Legal Chapter of the RIII Existential Chess Club” that meets every Friday at McDonalds…..
@Matt…I had not thought of the Silmarillion but that would work for me. The other two are options but as you might imagine I know about 100 others who would be 99th percentile in both categories….I am tempted to add at least one physical event (I should be in the top 1% in something since we are comparing ourselves to the rest of the 7 billion). Then perhaps food trivia, a “chopped” style cooking event, or both?

4. People may have significant expertise in certain fields, yet in turn they are imprisoned within the confinement of these specific fields of expertise. If someone had no expertise in any particular field, then they would be regarded as having a limited intellect.

However, if someone chose to practice lateral non-conformal thinking, and thus in turn spread his or her mind laterally or horizontally, he or she may possibly achieve an understanding of the entirety of all reality itself, but do so at the basic level, the foundation level.

But due to having no expertise in any of today’s currently classified fields of interest and development, this person will be 100% completely ignored by the worlds entire population, for this person is at best regarded as nothing but a “Jack of all trades, and master of none” . Thus in turn, the brightest mind of all, would be regarded as the stupidest of all.

Example: Physicists like to keep people confused. They describe the bizarre effects of Special Relativity, yet they do not reveal the absolute foundation that creates these relativistic outcomes. Once you see the absolute cause, it all becomes very simple to understand. If you have time available ( 1 1/2 hours ), watch the 9 short videos located at http://goo.gl/fz4R0I . Yet, overall, these videos are ignored.

5. […] Nie ja to wymyśliłem. Parafrazuję tutaj tylko wpis z angielskiego blogu Many Worlds Theory. Jego autor, Matthew Rave, miał swoje internetowe pięć […]