In today’s creative world it pays to be a specialist. But is that the best thing for our career? Robert Twigger at Aeon Magazine:
When the body remains still and the mind is forced to do something repetitive, the human inside us rebels.
The average job now is done by someone who is stationary in front of some kind of screen. Someone who has just one overriding interest is tunnel-visioned, a bore, but also a specialist, an expert. Welcome to the monopathic world, a place where only the single-minded can thrive. Of course, the rest of us are very adept at pretending to be specialists. We doctor our CVs to make it look as if all we ever wanted to do was sell mobile homes or Nespresso machines. It’s common sense, isn’t it, to try to create the impression that we are entirely focused on the job we want? And wasn’t it ever thus?
In fact, it wasn’t. Classically, a polymath was someone who ‘had learnt much’, conquering many different subject areas. As the 15th-century polymath Leon Battista Alberti — an architect, painter, horseman, archer and inventor — wrote: ‘a man can do all things if he will’. During the Renaissance, polymathy became part of the idea of the ‘perfected man’, the manifold master of intellectual, artistic and physical pursuits. Leonardo da Vinci was said to be as proud of his ability to bend iron bars with his hands as he was of the Mona Lisa.
Twigger argues, and we’d agree, that the best ideas come from a cross-pollination of seemingly unrelated fields. Sometimes we think we need to specialize to survive, but maybe the future will better reward “Expert Generalists.”
This article originally appeared on 99u.com.
Sean Blanda is the managing editor of 99u.com.