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Cold Fusion & Unicorns
The Case for Expertise over Generalism by
Our society has told us to focus on being well-rounded. Once upon a time, that made sense. But has technology erased the benefits of being well rounded? As an expert, we focus on building up our strengths. Conversely, when we strive to be well-rounded, we focus on our weaknesses and bringing them up to par while ignoring our strengths. Read on to see how this plays out in a “real world” setting.
The Science Wiz
Once upon a time there were three students: • Little Johnny • Little Susie • Little Billy (Sweet names, I know!) They all went to the same school and had the exact same schedule. However, they all had very different grades. At the end of the school year, their Science grades were indicative of their different learning abilities. Consider their grades in light of who YOU would want as a tutor if you were having difficulty in Science:
The choice is obvious as to who is best at Science: • Little Johnny rules at Science; he IS the Science Wiz. • Little Susie is passing; not bad but not great either. • Little Billy looks like an idiot; Science is NOT his strong point. In the end, Little Johnny appears to be the best choice for a great Science tutor. Right?
The Rest of the Picture
The truth is, the three students are taking more than just Science. They’re also taking Math, English, and a host of other common studies for their grade level. Let’s see how everyone is doing across the board. Remember, Little Johnny was the Science Wiz!
Suddenly our picture gets turned on its head. While Little Johnny might be the Science Wiz, he sucks hardcore at everything else! Little Susie is holding strong with her C average. And our “idiot” Little Billy is rocking every other class they share! Looking at the bigger picture we see the following: • Little Johnny is THE expert at Science • Little Billy is a genius at everything else (Math, English, History, Literature, Art and Social Studies) • Little Susie is well-rounded but not an expert at anything in particular Ready for the kicker? Our student who is only average, the one who is not an expert at anything…is also the only one who is allowed to advance to the next grade!
What does the future hold?
Let’s peer into the future for these three students with extreme best and worse case scenarios.
Extreme Best Case Scenario
Little Johnny is allowed to focus his energy and passion and becomes renowned as the Science expert in the circles that he grows up in. It’s obvious that something in his brain is hardwired so that science is easier for him than anyone he encounters. Sure, he can barely draw stick figures and has to hire an assistant to edit his research papers, but he goes on to cure AIDS, cancer, and decode the human genome in his spare time. Working with the top people in his field, he becomes known as the father of Scientific enlightenment and ushers in a new era of knowledge.
Little Billy is permitted to leave his Science studies behind. While all of his other subjects come easy, he picks a few that he is most interested in and goes balls to the wall studying everything about them. Focusing on History and Social Studies, Billy becomes an expert at how humans interact with each other and understands why they do the things they do. Billy is the number one mediator in the world, bringing peace to the Middle East, between Republicans and Democrats, and in his most amazing moment, between PC and Apple fanboys. He is the bright sun at the dawn of world peace.
Little Susie goes to college and takes all of the classes she is supposed to. She makes passing grades in everything and in her 3rd year decides to pick a major. Graduating, she attempts to enter the work force but with nothing that causes her to stand out as extraordinary, she spends months attempting to get a job with her degree. Nothing. Finally she contacts her old friend Little Johnny. He hires her. She makes six-figures a year editing his research papers. Good for her!
Extreme Worst Case Scenario
Little Johnny’s teachers call for a conference with his parents. As one might expect, the focus of the meeting is on Johnny’s six classes that have an F, despite his surprising expertise in Science. A plan is put in place to improve his other grades. As his focus is removed from his passion, his Science grade slips while a few of the other grades raise to passing. Frustrated that a few of his classes continue to fail regardless, Johnny says “Eff this game” and drops out of school. He takes a job that is not his passion making smoothies and peeling more bananas than anyone he’ll ever meet. Johnny becomes an adult, finds the internet, and starts studying Science again. He scribbles formulas in hundreds of notebooks all over his apartment. In one notebook is an outline for cold fusion. In another, the solution to the fossil fuel problem. In a larger notebook, he has figured out how to create the DNA for a unicorn and bring one to life. A unicorn. A REAL LIVE UNICORN! Not some stupid ass horse with a horn stuck on it, but a unicorn that vomits rainbows, grants wishes, and makes Starburst jellybeans rain from the sky! He does that! Unfortunately, while in a depressed state about the outcome of
his life, Johnny gets drunk and falls off of a 4th story balcony to his death. The next day, his landlord throws all of his notebooks in the trash when cleaning out his apartment. Johnny’s genius is never revealed.
Little Billy’s teachers also call a conference with his parents. The focus is Billy’s failing science grade and how he isn’t living up to his potential. His previous pride in his grades is turned to embarrassment at this chink in his armor. He dedicates more time to raising his Science grade and passing, but his other grades drop to B’s. Billy’s not done though; he takes this challenge to heart. With renewed resolve, he makes the decision to become a Scientist. Whatever it takes, he is going to conquer this weakness. He goes to college, busts his ass, and graduates. It doesn’t come naturally to him but he made it to Scientist, dammit! Billy also fills up hundreds of notebooks with Scientific formulas. One day he proudly presents HIS solution for cold fusion and receives world wide recognition. A cold fusion power plant is built. He wins the Nobel Peace Prize. (Wait, his story isn’t done yet.)
Susie is left alone by her teachers. She goes to college and gets an Interdisciplinary Degree allowing her to become a truly well-rounded individual. Graduating, she is happy to get a job making $50,000 a year at a power plant construction company. While there she runs into her old classmate Billy who is responsible for her current project, a cold fusion power
plant. They strike up a renewed friendship as they remember their days together studying hard at ALL of their classes. They fall in love and decide to get married after the opening day of the power plant. As a wedding gift, Billy arranges it so that Susie is the one to hit that big red button that starts the power plant on opening day. The day comes. Susie pushes the big red button. Billy wasn’t a good scientist. His formula was wrong. The cold fusion power plant overheats, turns into a supernova, destroys the planet, and wipes out the entire human race. If only Johnny had been allowed to focus on Science, he would have discovered Billy’s error, saved the world from total devastation, and Billy and Susie would have gotten married to live happily ever after. As it was, incidentally, Billy and Susie never got married in this scenario.
The Slow, Painful Death of Being Well-Rounded
All my life I’ve been encouraged to be well-rounded. Basically that meant trying to learn a little bit about a wide variety of topics and to work on my weaknesses and get them up to par. Being well-rounded requires you to focus on improving your weaknesses while taking your strengths for granted. While a student myself, I excelled in Math, Art, Writing, and anything to do with computer. I hated everything else and it showed until enough parent/teacher conferences resulted in me focusing on those weaknesses and hope that my strengths were strong enough to survive. I passed with Susie-esque grades (i.e. mediocre, well-rounded grades) and eventually dropped out of college. I also spent my 20’s just barely above the poverty line!
The Bright Light of Being a Focused Expert
After realizing that being well-rounded wasn’t getting me anywhere, I decided to focus on the what I was good at and what I was passionate about. I poured myself into learning how to combine Math, Art, and Writing while using the computer as the element that tied everything together. I became an expert in my field. I find things that others miss and help companies save millions of dollars. I make six-figures a year. I have started becoming a thought leader in my industry. And I use Google on the rare occasion when I need to know something I’m NOT the expert at.
The world needs more experts. Improve your strengths, not your weaknesses.
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About the author
Our very best life!
is the author behind Heroic Destiny and has a passion for the intentional pursuit of our best life. A life outside of the template that has been handed to all of us. A life that celebrates that amazing something in each of us.
And he’s looking to bring that message in new way. A way that is easy to share and spread. A very intentional way.
Want to know more? Click here.
What is YOUR expertise?
Are there areas in your life that you are considered an expert at? If so, what are they? If not, what are some areas you previously showed affinity for that you have not pursued?
If you do have areas of expertise, how can you sharpen them and become better? If you aren’t sure, how can you begin developing an interest or talent into an expertise?
What obstacles have prevented you from pursuing expertise to the fullest? Are you able to overcome them? If it was your own choosing, are the reasons you had still valid?
What will you do TODAY to increase your experise?
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