“Specialization is for Insects"
“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, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly." - Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
This quote means to me that the capacity for learning and being competent in many areas is core to what it means to be human. Consequently, one of the most thrilling aspects of a well rounded education is seeing the connection across completely different fields or domains. Besides being good for fitness, riding/running/swimming helps my work by unfocusing AND improving the mind. Besides making money by investing in public equities, it helps me better coach startups because I understand elements of successful businesses. Surfing reminds me that nature is in control and to accept reality as it is, not as I’d like it to be.
When getting my career start (like for most), specialization was paramount to success. Yet it was inimical to a fulfilling life. I began to see how one-dimensional specialization was and sought to broaden my horizons. I wanted to travel more, lead a team, compete in Ironman, invest on my own, race my mountain bike, study philosophy, and hone my surfing. Now I enjoy reading up on topics not really related to my profession directly. My reading list used to look like this collection of books I recently saw on Twitter (see below). A bit embarrassing to think about it now. Studying orthogonal disciplines has *incidentally* been useful for my career because the art of decision making is best done with a well versed mind.
Want to learn more about leadership? Read a biography on Roosevelt. Want to understand more about AI? Study how the brain works. Want to learn more about engineering? Study Davinci. Want to be a better manager? Learn from great coaches. While I make it sound like one leads to the other, often you don’t know what to expect. Follow your curiosity and you’ll start making connections between things you didn’t before. Not because you’re trying to be better focused on an outcome, but because you are now a seeker of wisdom.
I’m also keen on wisdom applied. I’ve spent a lot of time studying endurance training, nutrition, physiology, and recovery because it makes me better at sport. I’ve also spent a lot of time reading investing greats, studying industries (like steel, e-commerce, semiconductors..), and equity analyst reports because I do my own stock investing. Nothing so excellent for learning like skin in the game. Then once you get past the first stages of building expertise by following others you start tinkering on your own. That form of learning and engagement with the world in a new way is extremely gratifying. Darwin wasn’t an expert scientist so much as he was a curious and deliberate thinker and observer of the world.
We grapple with specialization in science and tech. In software we have conjoined specializations: DevOps, DevSecOps, FinOps, MLOps, Full stack dev...As if any software position doesn’t require you to branch out. It’s almost as if specialization is eating itself with these terms. The same goes for fitness. Articles talk about the brain-gut connection as if it’s some new found thing, yet it’s always been artificial to separate the mind from the body. In investing it’s value vs growth which is mostly bullshit. All models are wrong, but some are useful. One model of the mind is the hemispheric model.
In this, specialization is a function of the left brain and it’s my supposition that we need to nurture our right brain. Be a seeker of wisdom, instead of seeking a leg up. Lead with your curiosity, not your competitiveness. This is more a call for balance than a dissolving of current practices.
Finally, I feel compelled to call out the toxic #hustleporn culture of Silicon Valley. Nassim was right (despite his typical boorish delivery) to call bullshit on Lex wanting to read a heady book a week (thread on now deleted tweet https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/1609576801168228352?t=RYJe7OtDO3Jyd_2UaMR-jw&s=19)
But Patrick gets it. He spends alot of his time interviewing and reading. I got a fantastic book recommendation from him because of it and it had 0 to do with tech or business. It’s been an eye opening journey and I highly recommend “The Matter with Things"