03 November 2011

Quote for today on self-reliance and specialization

To specialize is to brush one tooth. When a person specializes he channels all of his energies through one narrow conduit; he knows one thing extremely well and is ignorant of almost everything else. – Tom Robbins, from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
To me, self-reliance is contrary to specialization. Your level of self-reliance is proportional to how much of a  generalist you are.

While it may not be possible to truly become a jack-of-all-trades, you do want to have basic knowledge in a wide range of skills.

For example, being able to grow your own food, performing basic maintenance around your home, and knowing basic first aid all make you more self-sufficient. Note that simply being proficient is adequate; it's not necessary to actually be a horticulturalist, an electrician, or a doctor.

It's important to note that this is not a call for mediocrity in any skill you develop, however. Instead, it's like Tim Ferris (author of The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body) says on his blog:
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing. 
It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”… 
Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre? 
Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.
Of course, even the "mastery" that Ferriss mentions can take a fair amount of time. For some skills, you'll naturally work and practice and achieve some advanced skills.

However, note that earlier I mentioned being "proficient," which simply means being competent or skilled in doing (or using) something. In other words, you just need to learn and practice enough to be able to meet your needs.

So, don't specialize. Get out there and learn how to do more for yourself!

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