Specialists often get the attention and the admiration: So-and-so began their career path as a child, studied this myopic topic through grad school and interned under the best person in this narrow field in the world! I actually fall a little into this category, with my journalism graduate degree from Northwestern and decades of study.
But my biggest strengths - and your biggest strengths - come from outside the chosen field.
Why you need to leave your field of vision
In a recent Medium post, Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried has a great take on why other studies matter:
In software, people often turn to Apple for design inspiration. It makes sense -- the company is wildly successful, it defines trends, and it pushes envelopes. But copying Apple doesn't make you a trendsetter or a rule breaker. It makes you a follower. When everyone mimics Apple, everything tends to look the same. Apple's clean and simple aesthetic is Apple's -- it's not yours.
Apple doesn't just reflect Steve Jobs' tech ambitions, but his time doing transcendental meditation, his time studying history and his counterculture aesthetic. The groundbreaking fonts available on the first Apple computers? According to Becoming Steve Jobs, it was inspired by a calligraphy class he took in college. Outside influences gave him success in his main field.
Personally, my interest in technology always paralleled my focus on communication. The dual lens led to becoming a tech journalist for Playboy and New York Post, a best-selling author on tech culture and, more recently, co-founding and handling the launch of a successfully acquired startup.
Rise of the multi-hyphenate
The artistic entrepreneur, the musician banker and so on are becoming the norm. Good Life Project's Jonathan Fields calls them blended careers. Creative Live's Chase Jarvis calls them multi-hyphenates. Soon, I suspect, we'll just call them careers.
There are a few reasons why this will become the standard. Many realize that this creates a kind of job security, as you aren't putting all your experience eggs into one basket. The financial end can pay off, too, as your additional interests can bring added value to your main job or create a lucrative side hustle. Lastly, in this information age, it has never been easier to learn about and pursue divergent ideas freely.
It is worth looking outside of your field, even if you aren't juggling multiple interests. Fried put it best: "When companies compete, they tend to borrow from each other. It's one big, paranoid loop."
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