This is one of my favorite quotes:
“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”
~Jerry Garcia (lead guitar for The Grateful Dead)
It took me a long time to figure out Garcia’s meaning. To be “the best of the best” means by some measurement you are better than others in your field. But to be the “only one” is to create a new category for yourself like The Grateful Dead created their own genre of music. They broke from the herd and created a unique form of music.
Mariano Rivera played for 19 years with one team, at one position, throwing only one type of pitch, one inning at a time. His mechanics are perfect and it has made him the best relief pitcher in the history of the game and insured his entry into the hall of fame. The road to success is taking a small slice of something and owning it. Being the master, the force to be reckoned with, the only one they call in the ninth inning with the game on the line. I was reminded of this last Thursday when the Supreme Court granted cert in a case filed by Paul Cassell, a law professor and former federal judge. He has intensely focused on one issue, the rights of minor sex crime victims, and made it his own. This is a good example of how Garcia’s axiom works — master one part of the legal spectrum, and will take you to the Supreme Court.
I love obsessive people (at least those obsessive about their work); as the MRI proves they employ more brain power on a problem. Focusing enormous energy on one singular issue can effect radical change. And in the Darwinian legal world, the only way to survive is to be distinctive.
My partner Howard Srebnick has had a 6-year obsession with the Kaley case and it brought him to the Supreme Court. His brief may be accessed here. He is singularly focused on one issue – the right to counsel and government freeze orders. How obsessive is Howard in his preparation for the oral argument? He is listening to decades of recorded arguments to get the sense of it. Far and away beyond what is necessary, but it will give him the confidence to attack any Justice’s question.
My advice is take on an issue and beat it to death. Have an obsessive devotion to one talent or skill. Be the recognized expert in it. The go-to guy. It will take you a long way.