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For too long, we have been asked to maximize our professional usefulness. We should focus our efforts on being really good at one thing.
In short, specialization prevailed. With few exceptions, the most wanted professionals in their fields were the best at what they did. The best engineers were the ones who got jobs at Apple and Tesla. The best quants were the ones who got jobs at Renaissance and SAC. The best chefs worked in Noma and Per Se. This principle was true in most areas, thus, people were encouraged to become truly Good in one area at the expense of others. In fact, it was specialized in specialization. You are no longer an engineer – I was an engineer at DevOps. You are no longer a chef – you are a pastry chef. And any time spent not mastering this area of expertise was a waste of time.
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And while, historically, these individuals have been well paid, this does not always appear to be the case. In fact, these days, categorizing your talents into one discipline can actually block one’s path towards acclaim, recognition, and the financial gain associated with it. why is that? Neither Steve Jobs nor Elon Musk was the best engineer in their organization. And they weren’t the best managers. Or the best designers. Or really the best at anything. However, they have developed a high level of expertise across multiple, often highly differentiated, knowledge areas. There are few like Steve Jobs, who was a talented designer, product visionary, great arbiter of talent and an inspiring (though difficult) manager.
Oddly enough, our educational system and cultural fabric often encourage people to become really good at something at the expense of everything else. Meanwhile, studies show that it is those who embrace a variety of interests who make the greatest achievements in entrepreneurship, science, and the arts. This practice, known as skill stacking, indicates that it is unusual to be in the top 10% in many widely varying skills than the top 1% in a single skill. The more different the skills, the less likely you are to find people who reflect the same mix of experience. This can make an individual not only unique in terms of what they can do, but also more likely to view problems and situations from a unique perspective. While most computing entrepreneurs approached an engineering background, Jobs approached it from both an engineering and a design perspective. In turn, he was able to build something that those with a narrower geometric frame of reference were not equipped to do.
Therefore, the prescription for any aspiring entrepreneur to shake up the world is a simple two-pronged process that first embraces the existing diversity of interests and then goes one step further to purposefully cultivate new interests.
Related: Why being a specialist in your field doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced workplace
Embrace your diverse interests
Often, when speaking with budding entrepreneurs, they admit, without the slightest bit of shame, that they also have hobbies that do not seem to apply directly to the businesses they are building. They are quick to reassure me that they visit these hobbies only infrequently, at short moments of pause in the arduous endeavor of building their business. It’s hard not to frown when one hears this very common phrase. Although it doesn’t always appear right away, it’s often those exactly Interests that help inform the essence of what makes their product different and special. A fintech entrepreneur with a passing interest in human behavioral psychology would almost certainly make the latter see their products in ways necessary to differentiate them from their competitors. Diverse interests do not hinder success. Instead, they are often a key reason for success.
Commit to learning something new
Almost everyone has some hobbies they have long put off because they simply “don’t have enough time. Between our work, our friends, our family, and any other commitments we can squeeze in, there are never enough hours in the day.” Hours of the week to learn something that has nothing to do with their work can feel criminal.Every entrepreneur should ditch this idea and commit a minimum of five hours each week investing in something they wanted to do but put off for too long. At worst, they’ll give These investments to mind a respite from the work of building a business.It is built and, almost with sudden frequency, ends up being the major differentiators.
As entrepreneurs, we all have ambitions to build businesses that will change our lives. But it’s hard to get really innovative and innovative ideas. Many smart people direct their energy toward trying to come up with the next big thing. A person who has spent every waking moment studying finance is not likely to think of something very different than the tens of thousands of other people who have done the same. But suppose this same person has spent time in finance along with interpretive dance, social psychology, and architecture. In this case, they are more likely to have a perspective that few, if any, others share. These other aspects of their lives will inevitably influence their approach to building a piece of fintech.
So the next time you feel guilty for receiving some psychological theses or signing up for an interpretive dance class, realize that these are not distractions but may be a way to achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.