AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: April 17, 2011 12:43 PM
It seems I've been running into intersections everywhere.
In one of
Richard Feynman letter,
he wrote of two modes for scientists: deep and broad.
Scientists who focus on one thing typically win the big
awards, but Feynman reassured his correspondent that
scientists work broadly in the intersections of multiple
disciplines can make valuable contributions.
the value of combining skills. John Cook
commented on Adams's idea,
and one of Cook's readers
commented on Cook's comment.
A week ago Friday, I spoke at a gathering of professors,
students, and local business people who are interested
in interactive digital technologies. Among other things,
my talk considered the role of programming in the future
of people who study human communication,
and other so-called non-technical fields. One of my
friends and former students, now a successful entrepreneur
who employs many of our current and former students,
spoke about how to succeed in business as a start-up. His
talk inspired the audience withe power of passion, but he
also gave some practical advice. It is difficult to be
the best at any one thing, but if you are very good at two
or three or five, then you can be the best in a particular
market niche. The power of the intersection.
Wade used a Venn diagram to express his idea:
The more skills -- "core competencies", in the jargon of
business and entrepreneurship -- you add, the more unique
As I thought about intersections in all these settings,
a few ideas began to settle in my mind:
Adding more circles to your Venn diagram is a good thing,
even if you feel they limit your ability to excel in one
of the other areas. Each circle adds depth to your niche
at the intersection. Having several skills gives you the
agility to shift your focus as the world changes -- and
as you change.
At some point, adding more circles to your Venn diagram
starts to hurt you, not help you. For most of us, there
is a limit to the number of different areas we can
realistically be good in. If we are unable to perform
at a high level in all the areas, or keep up with the
changes they evolve, we end up being mediocre.
Mediocrity isn't usually good enough to excel in the
market, and it isn't a fun place to live.
The fact that we can create intersections in which to
excel is a great opportunity for people who do not have
the interest or inclination to focus on any one area too
narrowly. Perhaps we can't all be Nobel Prize-winning
physicists, but in principle we all can make our own
The challenge is that you still have to work hard. This
isn't about being the sort of dilettante who skims along
the surface of knowledge without ever getting wet. It's
about being good at several things, and that takes time
Of course, that is what makes Nobel Prize winners, too:
hard work. They simply devote nearly all of their time
and energy to one discipline.
I think it's good news that hard work is the common
denominator of nearly all success. We may not control
many things in this world, but we have control over
how hard we work.