Tiger Woods started his journey to fame at a very early age when he recognized his passion for golf. This popularised the notion of getting a head start by specializing in a particular field of interest and practising diligently. The trend of narrowing down on a particular vocation is common in a lot of fields, be it sports, medicine or academia. However, the question to be asked is whether specialization is the way out? Having experience or expertise in a single field doesn’t always help in performance. While experience does count sometimes, the performance also requires spontaneity, creativity and flexibility that generalization provides.
Experimentation as a route to expertise
Roger Federer shares with Woods the status of stardom but his journey was different in a sense that Federer didn’t specialize in tennis right from the beginning. He took time to try his hand at a variety of sports like squash, basketball, wrestling, badminton and so on which he claims helped him improve his athleticism and hand-eye coordination. The path of experimentation he undertook before specializing in tennis can be considered as the best route to eventual success. It is fine not to have found your calling early in life as it gives you the liberty and time to experiment and understand your true passions.
Slow and effective learning
It’s always important to gain a deep understanding of the subject and the underlying concepts while learning. Certain techniques like spacing whereby you leave time between learning something and practising it can be followed to facilitate a rewarding learning experience. Both short term and long term spacing is effective and is found to increase the retaining and reproducing capacity in people. To gain a slow and deep understanding of things that will last longer is thus better than quick progress that can be easily lost.
We live in a complex world of rapid advancements which has also led to a steady rise in the IQ levels in people over the years. A research conducted by James Flynn, a professor of political studies, revealed an average three-point increase in IQ every decade. The reason behind this was clear from the studies conducted by the Russian psychologist, Alexander Luria which showed that people developed a greater ability to make conceptual relations between objects and ideas with more exposure of the brain to modernization. Our minds are now trained to understand and decode a wide range of topics and make connections when necessary.
Thinking outside the box
Specialists are a necessity in certain fields but at the same time, we profit more from thinking, reflecting and experimenting than limiting our horizons. The problem with narrowing our focus is that we tend to view things in the same manner due to repetition and won’t know how to think differently or apply an alternative when a problem arises. It is always beneficial to apply an outside view while analysing problems than just relying on the inside view influenced by your speciality. Failing to see things from a wider perspective can sometimes have unfavourable consequences.
Range of experience drives innovation
A study conducted on comics to identify the factors that contributed to its success showed that it was neither experience nor financial resources but the extent of a comic creator’s experience across comic genres. A person with expertise in a particular field and also considerable knowledge in other fields tends to be more successful. A greater range of experience in various fields is highly valuable than just fitting into certain defined and limiting slots.
Curiosity and open-mindedness for better results
Neither an expert’s educational qualification nor years of experience made an impact or difference in their performance according to the famous forecasting expert Philip Tetlock. He claims that one of the major problems was the narrowness in their focus and importance given to the understanding of only a single issue. Psychologist Jonathan Baron points out that open-mindedness and the readiness to question your own beliefs is essential to make better predictions. Often despite evidence, we tend to stick to our existing beliefs. To overcome this we need to develop a sense of scientific curiosity, the yearning to learn more, than just focusing on scientific knowledge. The eagerness to explore and accept new evidence and the willingness to keep an open mind is essential.
A different point of view
Arturo Casadevall, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the field of microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, feels that interdisciplinary understanding of topics and a thorough base in reasoning will help students be better equipped to face challenges in life. Embracing failures is also a practice that we should take up to pave a better path to success.
Being open-minded and ready for experimentation requires patience and curiosity which ultimately improves your chances to be a better contributor to society.
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