We need doctors who specialize in heart surgery and spend 100% of their time helping other people. But we also need polymaths (Newton, Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) to combine ideas to push society forward.
As Dilbert’s creator Scott Adam points out, achieving excellence is rare.
If you want something extraordinary [in life], you have two paths:
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.
The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.
The fox and the hedgehog
Said the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” When it comes to survival, all the hedgehog has to do is protect itself with the skill of its spines. But the fox is more versatile. It can adapt against a multitude of predators and different scenarios.
Furthermore, our success may hinge on what two or more things we can combine. We should think about our life experiences and how we can merge them with preexisting skills. We have the responsibility to create our own vocation if it doesn’t yet exist.
Both experts and practicians make the world a better place. One can’t exist without the other.