Reaching 95%-ile isn’t very impressive because it’s not that hard to do. I think this is one of my most ridiculable ideas. It doesn’t help that, when stated nakedly, that sounds elitist. But I think it’s just the opposite: most people can become (relatively) good at most things.
Note that when I say 95%-ile, I mean 95%-ile among people who participate, not all people (for many activities, just doing it at all makes you 99%-ile or above across all people). I’m also not referring to 95%-ile among people who practice regularly. The “one weird trick” is that, for a lot of activities, being something like 10%-ile among people who practice can make you something like 90%-ile or 99%-ile among people who participate.
This post is going to refer to specifics since the discussions I’ve seen about this are all in the abstract, which turns them into Rorschach tests. For example, Scott Adams has a widely cited post claiming that it’s better to be a generalist than a specialist because, to become “extraordinary”, you have to either be “the best” at one thing or 75%-ile at two things. If that were strictly true, it would surely be better to be a generalist, but that’s of course exaggeration and it’s possible to get a lot of value out of a specialized skill without being “the best”; since the precise claim, as written, is obviously silly and the rest of the post is vague handwaving, discussions will inevitably devolve into people stating their prior beliefs and basically ignoring the content of the post.
Personally, in every activity I’ve participated in where it’s possible to get a rough percentile ranking, people who are 95%-ile constantly make mistakes that seem like they should be easy to observe and correct. “Real world” activities typically can’t be reduced to a percentile rating, but achieving what appears to be a similar level of proficiency seems similarly easy.
We’ll start by looking at Overwatch (a video game) in detail because it’s an activity I’m familiar with where it’s easy to get ranking information and observe what’s happening, and then we’ll look at some “real world” examples where we can observe the same phenomena, although we won’t be able to get ranking information for real world examples.