Specialists vs Generalists

1 minute read

* Note: this is a backdated post from an email I sent to friends, lightly edited for personal content and context

This post on Farnam Street was one of the more interesting things I’ve read lately. It talks about specialising vs generalising, and how that is not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Some quotes below:

When their particular skills are in demand, specialists experience substantial upsides. The downside is that specialists are vulnerable to change

Every day, we have to decide where to invest our time — do we become better at what we do or learn something new?

Specialize most of the time, but spend time understanding the broader ideas of the world

I recall reading advice before about how you should aim to be great in two or more skills. Can’t remember where it was from, but the reasoning was that there are plenty of ppl who are experts in one, but having a combination makes you much more desirable. e.g. finance + communication vs just finance.

There’s also the thought that it’s nearly impossible to #1 in an area, but being #50 in two or more is achievable with less effort given diminishing marginal returns. Maybe not the case for some of you but something to think about.

I personally think being curious and learning about random things is fun, which is why I love this. It does mean I ‘waste’ some time on irrelevant articles or works I’ll never understand e.g Shakespeare but I think (hope?) the overall return’s been a net positive.

Another implication is to also revise your views in light of new evidence. As Morgan Housel and others have written, take a position of “I have an evidence-based strategy but am open to amending, and I know I’ll occasionally be wrong even when I technically should have been right”

When you’re doing learning for fun though, I’d be careful to distinguish the extent that you know in this new area, as it is very easy to think you know something when you actually don’t understand it. i.e. knowing the name of something vs understanding the concept. Don’t be a pretender.