Why Becoming An Expert-Generalist Will Help Your Career
In the words of Paul Rudd, “You’re doing too much, do less.”
According to Malcolm Gladwell expertise is built over 10,000 hours of focused attention to a craft. That is of course if you want to be really, ridiculously good at one thing. Artists, athletes and other obsessive types attribute their unwavering success to this practice. Go deep, not wide they’ll say. But what if they were wrong?
What if being an expert-generalist was useful for more than just bar trivia and keeping up awkward small-talk with your in-laws?
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s life-long business partner has mastered the art of knowing a little about a lot. Don’t believe me? Well, for starters he’s made billions of dollars for Berkshire Hathaway (maybe you’ve heard of it?) via investments in companies ranging from Fruit of the Loom to Geico. Go ahead, tell me what those two companies have in common … I’ll wait …
You don’t make billions of dollars from underwear and underwriting without having a broad knowledge base.
The Ken Jennings of the investment world subscribes to the expert-generalist school of thought. The term was first coined by Orit Gadiesh, the chairman of Bain & Co. and is best described as mastering and collecting expertise in many different disciplines or industries.
Adhering to the Gospel According to Charlie probably (read: won’t) make you a billionaire but it will allow you to see the world through a broader lens, pull insights from one area for use in another and build a better, more diverse network. You know, finally become that well-rounded business professional your parents always wished you would be.
It’s not surprising that broadening your horizons beyond black-belt level expertise of TPS reports is good for business (and yourself). But knowing everything doesn’t mean Wikitripping with reckless abandon. You can follow Munger’s Mental Model approach or you can take a page out of middle-school-aged Elon Musk’s book and learn core concepts across fields and relate those back to our life and the real world.
It’s easy to start with areas that compliment your speciality. Pick up a book. Throw on a podcast. Just. Start. Learning.
And don’t just learn, do. Take a job in a different field. Take a class about something you know nothing about. Shadow an expert in the field.
Quite frankly, the only people who should know more than you in any given field are specialists.
But don’t take it from me, in the words of Elon Musk:
“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang onto.”
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