First published on Beyond Bridges on February 10th, 2016.
Update : February 14th 2016. Interestingly, a friend and reader of this blog just sent me this link, which is a third party version of the LinkedIN map below. It seems to be limited due to LinkedIN’s API constraints, so it can’t map more than 499 of your connections. That said, there does seem to be a lot more information and analysis that surrounds the graph. Andy it means YOU can go try it out on your network. Thank you David.
A good friend of mine messaged me through LinkedIN. He is a fast thinking, witty, bright, intelligent, big thinking kind of guy. He’s also interested in his next gig - so let me know if you want an introduction. Anyway, to my point. He had been on my LinkedIN profile and commented;
I think you would be well served to pare that list (of skills I had listed in my summary) to maybe 4-5 distinct and specialized areas where you really shine better than the rest. Things like Leadership, Marketing, Communications are too generic and readily available in the marketplace.
And I agreed. In fact, so much so that I pared it down to zero. My skill list is summarized in another part of the profile anyway. But it got me to thinking.
I am a big fan of Mike Pesca over at Slate who delivers a daily podcast called The Gist. Try it. You won’t regret it. A couple of weeks ago he had Eric Weiner on as a guest, and they spent some time talking about where genius comes from. Turns out that Eric has just written a new book about ‘how genius happens’. One of my takeaways was that genius emerges from generalism - not speciality. For example, he talked about the fact that Einstein was not the most knowledgeable physicist of his time, but his value was that he was broad in both interest and knowledge. A ‘Renaissance man’ if you will. This an absolute opposite to what we live with today. We eschew the ’polymath’ in favor of the ‘monomath’. From the site Gain Weight Journal;
Unfortunately, we live in an era of monomaths now. This means specialists. The problem with that is that people get stuck with one way of thinking, they have blinders on, and cannot see the big picture, including the relationships and similarities between different things.
I know, even our education system is driven to a singular focus and it seems to be getting worse. For myself, I focussed on Maths and Physics in my education from the age of 15. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I could see the future, but despite that formal focus, I did put an effort into ensuring that I didn’t get locked up in that world and miss out on everything else that there was to offer. (Though I probably shouldn’t have read all three volumes of Lord of the Rings over a two week period shortly before some year end exams!). Back to the plot. Reading that quote reminded me of what we used to say back in my Group Partner days … “The Last Thing You Ever Need Near A Problem Is An Expert” Good. Because I am not. LinkedIN ‘Labs’ used to run something that visually mapped your connections so you could see clusters of people in your network. They closed it a while back, but at the time I wrote about it, dubbing it ‘Cloud Hopping’. I also observed that most people had a very tight network of very few ‘clouds’. This was mine. A highly distributed interconnected network, emerging from European and American networks in finance, technology, application and social disciplines. I think Derek was spot on. My strength is not my speciality. My strength is my generality. And, while I would absolutely not describe myself as a genius, I am definitely a cloud hopper. A connector. And there are not many of us around, or at least we tend to keep quiet, because we live in an age where value is placed on ‘what you know’. The ‘who you know’ is almost written off as ‘the old boys club’ . But once you understand the value of the role that Gladwell calls out in The Tipping Point - the pieces fall into place.
My Speciality? Generality!