“Anybody who acquires deep expertise does so at the expense of breadth. The challenge is to understand how much depth is enough, and how much is too much.”-Andrew Hargadon.
Most of us develop deep expertise in our profession and that’s necessary and good. Whatever profession you choose—teacher, physician, painter, architect, plumber—be good at it. There’s a bell curve in all human activity; make sure you’re on the right-hand side of the curve.
But there’s a point at which more expertise is unnecessary and even distracting. Do a cost-benefit analysis before going extreme. Will the cost of pursuing more expertise outweigh the benefit of doing so?
I have a friend who is extremely good at his profession, but that’s all he knows how to do. He has no other interests in life. He has burrowed deep into a narrow niche and lives only in that small area.
I have another friend who is extremely good at his profession, but she also has a broad curiosity about life and explores and excels in many areas. I prefer her approach.
Our world is a fascinating place; adopt a broad approach to life.
Be a jack of all trades and a master of one.
When considering depth and breadth, it need not be an either/or scenario; it can be both/and. Thomas Huxley said, “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” I like that. Have one well-developed area of expertise and stay fresh in that area, but also pursue multiple areas of interest.
Don’t underestimate your capacity to do more.
We all have more band-width than we think we do. Most of us can do 30-40% more than we’re doing. So don’t think that you can only handle one thing in life; bite off more than you can choose.
A broad knowledge base will make you a better and more interesting person.
In Western civilization, the “Renaissance person” (also called a polymath) is, presumably, the ideal to strive for—a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Think Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci—men who were multi-skilled and deeply impacted the world.
My son-in-law, Jonathan, is a polymath. He’s an emergency room physician, an instrument rated pilot, entrepreneur, sailor, flight surgeon for an F16 squad, works well with his hands…and the list goes on.
My associate, Paul, is a polymath. He’s musically talented, has a black-belt in Karate, is a master chef, speaks fluent Spanish…he could teach at the college level in multiple disciplines.
If I were Captain of a “game of life” and could choose my teammates, I would pick these two men. They are fully alive and have the focus, aggressiveness, and inventiveness to do anything they want to do.
I’ll close with a well-said thought from science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Questions for you, the reader:
- In what area of life are you a “master”?
- Have you developed other areas of interest? Name them.
- Are you curious about life? Do you want to pursue broad knowledge?
- Identify an area of your life in which you need to say, “I’ve gone deep enough.”
Go deep and broad.
I’ve written other essays that relate to this topic:
Question: What do you think about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
What? – In life, strive for both depth and breadth; you don’t need to choose one or the other.
So what? – Your life will be more enjoyable and you’ll be better able to contribute to society if you develop multiple interests.
Now what? – Audit your life and decide how deep you want to go in each major area. Begin pursuing more areas of interest.