N + 1 Things

Something that I heard often while I was growing up was that I should become “well-rounded” and that I should make every attempt to “fill in” the gaps of my experience with as many things as possible.

I think the intent is good but on the surface-level this is really, really bad advice because it can severely stunt someone’s growth if they feel as if they are spending too much time in one field of study (when they actually should continue to dive deeper).

Rather, we should encourage folks (and our children) to maximize curiosity in order to cultivate an internal drive and an internal culture of learning, of kaizen. Curiosity has no ceiling and it can lead someone to go deep into a field of study or it can lead someone to entertain many more than just one.

But I don’t think the latter leads to more well-roundedness; I think it leads to someone who creates a new type of expertise, the combination of two or more things that form an altogether new thing.

This is especially important in today’s modern economy where we have access to nearly all of the planet’s knowledge via the internet. In other words, you and I can learn pretty much everything about anything we want – so what do you do in that type of environment and context? Perhaps it’s not good enough to just become an “expert” at one thing (i.e. focus)?

Perhaps it’s better to become well-versed and knowledgeable about n + 1 things; perhaps it’s better to become great at two things instead of one.

You see, we can find experts at every level about anything and everything in and of the world… but how many folks have the knowledge and wisdom about 2+ things and who can combine their learning and understanding into something spectacularly different?

The most interesting people I know can somehow do this as they weave two (or more!) disciplines together and their answers and perspectives are so deep, vast, and rich in quality.

You see, these types of people bring a vividly technicolor worldview instead of one that is much more monochromatic; they see the world as something that has much more to offer us than what we currently see and feel, they bring life where there is none.

We need more n + 1 people in our lives. I want to be (and I’d love my kids to be) an n + 1 type of person.