This marks the first in a series of articles where I compare what accomplished thinkers have said about life and business and apply it to the AV industry.
Tiger Woods was two years old when he won his first ten-and-under golf tournament. As a child, he trained from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day focusing on his fitness, swing, short game, and drive. Once he was old enough to turn pro, he knew that everyone else’s 10,000 hours paled in comparison to his preparation.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that focusing on a single skill provides the greatest probability of becoming a master in that field. And it’s true that no one can argue the overwhelming success specialists such as Tiger Woods, Wolfgang Mozart, and Michael Phelps have achieved.
However, In David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, Epstein argues against overspecialization, making the case that diverse knowledge and experience is the most-likely path towards greatness in a complex, modern world.
Tiger’s story is the exception, not the rule. Roger Federer played dozens of sports in his childhood honing his athleticism before focusing on tennis.
Elon Musk studied economics and physics at university while cultivating a strong passion for technology. Range asserts that the specialist’s scope may be too narrow in a world with multivariate complexities which may leave them unable to adapt to a fast-changing environment outside of their focus.
Naval Ravikant, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, has an interesting take on being a generalist. Ravikant believes that attaining a certain level of expertise yields diminishing returns. He maintains that it’s better to be in the top 5% of three things than in the top 1% of one.
Are you a “specialist” or “individualist”? One has the advantage
Specialists can and will be successful, but the most successful individuals and those with the highest probability of achieving greatness are generalists.
Universities understand the value of interdisciplinary knowledge and experiences.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Computational Finance program, ranked as a top financial engineering program in the world by QuantNet, contributes its success to the deliberate fusion of the four disciplines of mathematics, statistics, computer science, and business to create a unique and unprecedented skillset in students.
In the audiovisual field, I think these ideas are directly applicable.
Would you rather have the programmer in the top 1% of the field, or would you prefer to have a programmer in the top 5%, who is gifted in graphic design, highly capable of troubleshooting, and a superior communicator?
It’s important to have a high-level Crestron programmer on staff.
But would you rather have the programmer in the top 1% of the field, or would you prefer to have a programmer in the top 5%, who is gifted in graphic design, highly capable of troubleshooting, and a superior communicator?
I think most of us would prefer the latter.
It’s why, as an industry, we struggle to find top-tier lead technicians.
While “technician” is a specific term, the skillset required to be a lead technician requires knowledge in a multitude of disciplines.
Carpentry, electrical, cabling, networking, configuration, programming, project management, people management, and communication skills may all be required.
The very best lead technicians are generalists in the top 5% of a few skills. The technicians who are in the top 1% of a specific skill are successful technicians, but they stay technicians.
You could argue that being in the top 5% of any field makes you a specialist, not a generalist. For ordinary people this is probably true. But I’m talking to those who desire to become the best of the best.
If you want to achieve greatness, heed the advice of some of today’s greatest thinkers and become a generalist.
“And he refused to specialize in anything, preferring to keep an eye on the overall estate rather than any of its parts….And Nikolay’s management produced the most brilliant results.
- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace