"People Who Have 'Too Many Interests' Are More Likely To Be Successful According To Research" - The Power of Polymaths in a Networked World

Alessio Frateily

Hatched by Alessio Frateily

Feb 25, 2024

4 min read


"People Who Have 'Too Many Interests' Are More Likely To Be Successful According To Research" - The Power of Polymaths in a Networked World

In today's fast-paced and interconnected world, the notion of specialization has been heavily emphasized. We've been told that in order to succeed, we must become experts in a specific field and dedicate ourselves to it. However, recent research suggests that those who have a wide range of interests and skills, often referred to as polymaths, are more likely to be successful.

The concept of polymaths is not new. Throughout history, there have been individuals who have excelled in multiple fields, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, who was not only a renowned artist but also a scientist, engineer, and inventor. These polymaths were able to bring together diverse knowledge and skills from different domains to create breakthrough ideas.

According to educator Ernest Boyer, the future belongs to the integrators, those who can become competent in at least three diverse domains and integrate them into a top 1-percent skill set. This idea challenges the popular notion that in order to excel in a skill, one must dedicate 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to it. Instead, polymaths go against the grain by building atypical combinations of skills and knowledge across fields and integrating them to create breakthrough ideas and even new industries.

Steven Johnson, author of "Where Good Ideas Come From," highlights the importance of thinking across different disciplines and scales. He describes how Charles Darwin's first scientific breakthrough required thinking like a naturalist, a marine biologist, and a geologist all at once. This kind of probing intelligence, willing to think across different disciplines and scales, is crucial for polymaths.

So, why are polymaths more likely to be successful? One reason is that they can bring together the best of what humanity has discovered from across fields to help them be more effective in their core field. They can draw from a diverse range of knowledge and skills to solve complex problems and create innovative solutions.

Furthermore, polymaths have a unique advantage in an environment of accelerating change. As new paradigms of business emerge and industries evolve, polymaths can quickly adapt and combine their existing skill sets in new and creative ways. They are anti-fragile, meaning that changes to the environment make them stronger, rather than weaker.

The value of being a polymath extends beyond individual success. In a networked world, where connections and relationships are crucial, being a polymath can give you a competitive edge. Networks are interconnected systems of people or things, and network effects occur when every new user or node makes the network more valuable to every other user.

By becoming a polymath and developing a unique skill set that few others have, you can differentiate yourself and stand out in a crowded job market. The ability to combine diverse skills and knowledge allows you to offer something truly valuable and rare. As self-made billionaire Peter Thiel asks, "What's the one thing you believe is true that no one else agrees with you on?" This question can help you identify your unique ideas and perspectives, which can be a valuable asset in a world that values original thinking.

But how do you become a polymath? Where do you start and how do you find the time to learn and integrate knowledge from different fields? One approach is to focus on mental models, which transcend disciplines and can be applied to various areas of life and study. For example, the 80/20 Rule, which states that 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results, can be used to improve efficiency and impact in every field you study.

Another important aspect of becoming a polymath is recognizing and understanding networks. Networks are not uniform or linear; they have clusters, hot spots, and dead spots. By identifying the "white-hot center" of a network, where the activity and value are highest, you can focus your efforts on activating other users and attracting more nodes to the network.

Asymmetry within networks is also important to consider. In nearly every marketplace, one side or type of node is harder to acquire than the other. By understanding this asymmetry and focusing on the harder side of the marketplace, you can attract users and build a robust network.

In conclusion, being a polymath in a networked world can give you a competitive advantage and increase your chances of success. By integrating diverse skills and knowledge, you can bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to complex problems. To become a polymath, focus on mental models, understand networks, and embrace the power of original thinking. Embrace the future of interconnectedness and leverage your diverse interests and skills to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace your diverse interests and skills - Don't limit yourself to one field. Explore different areas of knowledge and develop a wide range of skills.
  • 2. Focus on mental models - Learn and apply mental models that transcend disciplines. They can help you improve efficiency and impact in every area of your life and study.
  • 3. Understand networks - Recognize the irregularities and asymmetries within networks. Identify the "white-hot center" and focus your efforts on activating other users and attracting more nodes to the network.

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