#28 On the Specialist vs Generalist Dilemma

#28 On the Specialist vs Generalist Dilemma

Good morning Graduates!

This week, a special episode of Graduate Theory. This week, hear from Chris Dixon, Bill Gates, Tim Ferris, Malcolm Gladwell and David Epstein on how to best approach your career.

Specialise early? Or be a generalist and specialise later?

Find out in this week's episode.

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πŸ‘‡ Episode Takeaways

Short-Term Planning is a better approach

David had this to say on short-term planning

the dark horse project in the book, the common trait of people who find fulfillment in their careers, is it focused on short-term planning.

And that resonated with me so much such that I ended up as a subject in the study, which I disclosed in the book. What they do is they all came in and would say, well, you know, don't tell people to do what I did. I came through this weird path where I thought I was going to do one thing. And then I tried, I didn't like it.

So Zig and zag and, and they all view themselves as having come out of nowhere, which is why the researchers called it, the dark horse project and their common trait is this short-term planning where they don't look around and say, here's, who's younger than me and has more than me. They say, here's who I am right now, here are my skills and interests, here are the opportunities in front of me. I'll try this one. Here's my hypothesis about what I'll learn. And a year from now I'll change because I will have learned something new and they just do that until they get to a spot where they can kind of uniquely succeed and feel fulfilled.

How interesting is that? Often we get told that we need a long term career plan about where we want to be. We get put onto a track like becoming a partner or a tech lead, without fully exploring possible other paths.

It turns out, those that who don't plan actually tend to do better.

Building a Broad Base

David had this to say when discussing the importance of building a strong base before specialising.

Like, there was some recent research from LinkedIn that showed like people who become successful executives.
One of the best predictors is the number of job functions they've worked across within an industry. Or again, to go to this obsession with precocity when Mark Zuckerberg was 22 and he said, young people are just smarter. MIT, Northwestern and the census bureau just has research out showing that the average age of a founder of a blockbuster startup on the day of founding, not even when it becomes a blockbuster is about 46.

Becoming a successful executive, building a great startup and many other things don't tend to happen until much later. Getting a broad experience may slow you down initially, but it is what will help you go further in the long term.

Early Specialisation is Counter-Productive

And the economist found a natural experiment in the higher ed systems of England and Scotland in the period he studied the systems were very similar except in England.

Students had to specialize in their mid-teen years to pick a specific course of study to apply towards in Scotland. They could keep trying things in university if they wanted to. And his question was who wins the trade-off the early or the late specializers?

And what he saw was that the early specializes jump out to an income lead because they have more domain specific skills. The late specializers, get to try more different things. And when they do pick, they have better fit or what economists called match quality. And so their growth rates are faster by six years out, they erase that income gap.

Meanwhile, the early specializes start quitting their career tracks in much higher numbers, essentially because they were made to choose so early that they more often made poor choices. So the late specializes losing the short-term and wind in the long run. I think if we thought about career choice, like dating, we might not pressure people to settle down quite so quickly

After falling behind early, the late specialists have found something they really connect with. They then surpass those that specialise early.

If you are someone that still doesn't know what to do, don't fret. You are building very useful skills that will be transferred later.

Just like dating, don't think you need to settle down straight away.

🀝 Episode Sources

2020 Ted Talk

Why specializing early doesn't always mean career success | David Epstein - YouTube

2019 Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell

David Epstein in Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell - YouTube

Short clip of Epstein and Gladwell Discussing

Epstein and Gladwell discuss β€œRange” at MIT - David Epstein - YouTube

Tim Ferris on not liking the 10000-hour rule

Tim Ferriss Scoffs at Gladwell's 10,000 Hours - YouTube

Gladwell on 10k hours

Malcolm Gladwell on the 10,000 hour Rule - YouTube

Gladwell explains 10k hours further

Malcolm Gladwell Demystifies 10,000 Hours Rule - YouTube

Gladwell talks about outliers

Malcolm Gladwell - Outliers - YouTube

Gates on 10k hours

Bill Gates on Expertise: 10,000 Hours and a Lifetime of Fanaticism - YouTube

πŸ“ Content Timestamps

00:00 On the Specialist vs Generalist Dilemna
00:00 Episode Intro
01:57 Chris Dixon on Hill Climbing
03:33 The Two Approaches to Finding and Climbing 'Hills'
04:48 The 10,000 Hour Rule
06:20 The Problem with the 10,00 Hour Rule
07:45 Bill Gates on the 10,000 Hour Rule
09:33 Tim Ferris on the 10,000 Hour Rule
12:26 Range - The Tiger v Roger Problem
15:21 Adam Ashton on Range
19:24 Applications - Match Quality
22:56 Applications Β  - Long Term Success Requires a Broad Base
25:23 Applications - Short Term Thinking
29:23 Application - Skill Intersections
32:22 Early Specialisation can be counter-productive
35:28 Outro