Plotting Capability vs. Ambition

When I was in school (up to college), I was often frustrated by a lack of ambition in students around me.  The main problem in my area, to me, was a lack of ambition.  Surely, all these people could have much more awesome and useful lives if they strived for more? Of course, others see the world as a place of too much ambition, something that I see here in San Francisco.  Many entrepreneurs have hopes that are unbelievably and unrealistically high, and it’s quite apparent that they will eventually get let down.  Also of note are the yuppies who may always hope to gain 30% more income.  Here the issue is perhaps over-ambition and eventual disappointment.

Basic Capability vs. Ambition Graph

Here’s a basic plot of Ambition vs. Capability.   To help illustrate it’s meaning, I’ve broken it up into 4 quadrant archetypes.  Delusional people have lots of ambition (“I’m going to invent a singularity!”) but very little capability.  Heroes have lots of ambition and the capability to make it happen.  ”Genius slackers” are people who have lots of resources to do good, but lack the care to do it.  And the “cripples” are those who aren’t in the position to do much, and don’t care to anyway.


Theoretically, we could imagine a line being drawn to match each level of ambition with the exact amount of capability that it can achieve.  Basically this would state, “a person who can make at most $90k per year would hope to make 90k per year”.  Here I consider this line to be the “ideal”, and will repeatedly show it as a reference for comparison.


Individuals above this line have ambition exceeding capability, leading to eventual disappointment.  Individuals below this line have capability exceeding ambition, leading to a missed opportunity for their capability.  Here I consider this as deadweight economic loss.


Now, to be fair, it may be that this “Capability-Ambition Ideal” is not actually ideal for each individual or for society.  It just represents the exact match of the two.  Hypothetically, one can imagine that an individual striving to do more than they are capable of may be more productive than he or she would otherwise, and thus may benefit society more than if striving for what is possible.  This may be because he or she will only reach what is possible if he or she strives for much more, leading to personal disappointment but capability efficiency.  On the other hand, it may be optimal for the individuals’ well-being to strive for less than they are capable of, and enjoy life or do other things instead.


So far “Capability” and “Ambition” have been talked about in very general terms, but let’s make it much more specific.  Let’s say we want to look at the average ambition for each group of people with similar capabilities.  Then we can create a curve for the “Actual Average Ambition” within a society or set of people.  We can also look at “capability” and “ambition” for one specific variable, such as income. I imagine that the U.S. Monetary Capability vs. Ambition Plot would look something like what is shown above.  In general I understand that people hope for more money then they get, leading to people working very hard and continually being disappointed.


On the other hand, I imagine that with regards to helping the world (utility maximization), people aren’t nearly as ambitious as they have the capability to achieve.  A possible plot is above. That’s all I have for now.  There’s definitely a lot more that can be done here.  My guess is that it wouldn’t be too difficult to actually make some of these graphs.  Of course, knowing exactly how capable someone is is impossible, so for it to be realistic it should all be statistical, but I think these first iterations help show the basic points.