In the 2008 American presidential election, statistician Nate Silver correctly predicted the results of 49 of 50 states. In 2012, he predicted 50 of 50. How? Silver developed a unique statistical model and invented a new way of looking at elections.
Silver is a statistician, but he serves as the perfect proxy for current career climate. He combined a disparate set of skills to innovate a stale field. Last month he shared his career advice with the Harvard Business Review:
I think the applied experience is a lot more important than the academic experience.
I mean the thing that’s toughest to teach is the intuition for what are big questions to ask. That intellectual curiosity.
That stuff is kind of hard to teach through book learning. So it’s by experience. I would be an advocate if you’re going to have an education, then have it be a pretty diverse education so you’re flexing lots of different muscles.
You can learn the technical skills later on, and you’ll be more motivated to learn more of the technical skills when you have some problem you’re trying to solve or some financial incentive to do so. So, I think not specializing too early is important.
There is a larger point that Silver alludes to: the world (creative and otherwise) moves so quickly that something you choose to specialize in when you first arrive at college can be obsolete when you graduate. Remain a generalist and focus on a single problem to solve, all while adding tools and skills to your arsenal. Silver was set on making better predictions, and he spent years experimenting and learning new techniques until he found the right mix of skills that led to his success.
This post was originally published on 99u.com.
Sean Blanda is the managing editor of 99u.com.