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White papers: Why broad thinkers win in a specialized world

broad thinker

A comparison of technocrats versus leaders

white paper on expertise definition compared to leadership

I have always believed that a world ruled by hard-core reason and over-specialism is a sure recipe for collective and catastrophic failures.

Expertise definition

Don’t misunderstand me: I too believe in the “10,000-hours-to-expertise”, “Data-Driven-anything” and “Deliberate practice and repeated performance of the same task” until reactions become natural like muscle memory. But that code has its limits for me.

The need/illusion to be “On-top” of everything smacks of vulnerability, insecurity, corruption or greed, or irrationality in my book.

Influential propaganda and manipulation of public opinion are aligned to promote rigid reasoning and narrow specialization even if both are proving to be the worst courses of action after pursuing them for the last 3 centuries.

Over-learnt specialists can become single-minded because they can be captives of repetitive patterns of what has been experienced and entrenched in their own ways and beliefs. That’s why experts can actually become worse with experience. Experience leads to skill only in controlled-environments where patterns tend to repeat themselves. Hyper-specialists form neat theories of how the world works through the single lens of their specialty. Rigid under pressure, they would rather bend the reality to suit theories instead of showing flexibility.

Specialists are outstanding at predicting the past, not the future. However, they do tell interesting stories with authority – experts make great TV even when they are mostly wrong.

On the other side, broad thinkers resort to analogical thinking to take knowledge from one domain and apply it creatively to another. While a specialist often just uses the data people put in front of him or her; a generalist would say “is this the data I want to make the decision I need to make?”

People must not let our innate dislike of uncertainty limit us to relying upon experience from quantitative analyses – science and reason are variable while emotion and values are constant. When mixing emotion and reason in the right proportion, a sweet spot is reached.

We can no longer afford a free-hand for specialists who have acquired meltdown-inducing confidence – a dangerous combination of cultural and personal superiority. Life and Work need broad thinkers who figure out the fundamental questions to ask and then ask questions of the specialists who actually do know their stuff. Conceptualizers understand that most cause/effect relationships are probabilistic, not deterministic as rationalists do.

The world needs both vertical and lateral thinkers because it is both deep and broad but depth (i.e. efficiencies and improvements) is finite while breadth is not. Expertise definition is not the way out of the existential challenges our modern world faces.

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Bibliography

“Range, why generalists win in a specialized world”, D. Epstein

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