Summary: There are many people that are exceptional in one field. There are far fewer people that are good in multiple fields. The people that are good in multiple fields get recognized because they blend diverse talents. They are so good that they can’t be ignored!
Steve Martin, the famous comedian, has frequently been asked how he achieved his success. He gave this advice: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Why is this good advice? Notice he didn’t say be the best at one thing. If you’re the best at one thing, there can only be one person at the top. And that position is frequently challenged by others vying for the top spot. Instead, he said be “good”.
An interesting thing to note about Steve Martin’s career is that he was good at several things. Of course he was a comedian. But he was also a magician, musician and an actor. And it’s in those combination of skills that he shined.
My oldest daughter was known as a “triple threat” in her Theater Arts High School. She could sing, dance and act. She wasn’t the “best” at any one of these three talents, but because she could do all three well, she was frequently cast as one of the lead actors in her school musical productions.
Dilbert knows Best (or at least his creator does)
Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, describes his success as being a combination of just good talents. He describes these four talents as:
- Mediocre artist
- Never won a writing award
- Not the funniest person in the room
- Average business skills
But, because he was good at these four areas, it’s the combination of these four complementary skills that made him successful. Watch his description of this combination of skills here:
There has never been anyone quite like you!
I like this quote from the book, “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”, where the author describes maximizing your own unique set of talents inside of a corporation that increasingly wants to make you into their company mold of the perfect average employee:
Did you catch that phrase your uniqueness is “rooted in a complex mosaic of personal history that is original, unfathomable, inimitable”. A mosaic is a montage of different pieces which when arranged reveal a bigger picture. And this is what your combination of unique skills provides the world. When you uncover those skills and your uniqueness, that is when you can charge the highest price for your services and get your greatest satisfaction out of your job.
And this is for the search engines (really there’s only one, right?):
“When you come into an organization, you bring with you an arcane potency, which stems, in part, from your uniqueness. That, in turn, is rooted in a complex mosaic of personal history that is original, unfathomable, inimitable. There has never been anyone quite like you, and there never will be. Consequently, you can contribute something to an endeavor that nobody else can. There is a power in your uniqueness — an inexplicable, unmeasurable power.”
(“Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie)
Be a Multi-Hyphenate
What is a “Multi-Hyphenate“? It means multi talented across a wide variety of interests.
In a blog post by Ryan Holiday, author of one of my favorite books, “The Obstacle is the Way”, he describes the characteristics of a Multi-Hyphenate as having wisdom gleaned from a broad range of interests:
“We miss out on wisdom if we’re too narrow…Specialists become so narrow that they actually start developing worse judgment about the world as they accumulate knowledge…Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. Transfer is your ability to take knowledge and skills and apply them to a problem or situation you have not seen before.” (Source: “The Case for being a Multi-Hyphenate”)
Leonardo DaVinci was a Multi-Hyphenate, developing skills in art, sculpture, anatomy, biology and engineering. Ben Franklin was also a Multi-Hyphenate:
“In the not-so-ancient world, Ben Franklin was an author, publisher, printer, satirist, freemason, postmaster, politician, civic activist, scientist, and inventor. If that wasn’t enough, he happened to be one the world’s foremost meteorologists and experts on tornadoes!” (Source: “The Case for being a Multi-Hyphenate”)
In Henry Shein’s book, “Individual Mastery“, he describes the Multi-Hyphenate as a generalist. This is a person that values each work experience like as a gifted teacher that will help you in the future:
“You may not be able to start life in the business or profession you would desire. Many distinguished men with the first work opportunity offered, and put their best efforts into whatever they were employed at. The experience of each was a part of his education, for no employment is so menial that it does not develop some fresh ideas in the active, thoughtful mind.”
I recently finished up a short term work opportunity with a friend of mine who needed help at his contract labeling company. I learned many things very different than my knowledge worker roles in software development and corporate training. Working for my friend, I learned new skills including: working on assembly lines, managing temporary workers, driving a fork lift, wrapping and moving pallets, and filling out paper work for shipping and receiving. I’ve even documented it here in a few blog posts:
- “Helping others with Temporary Employment”
- “The Power of Reframing”
- “Lesson in Automation: Convert Boring Tasks into Active Tasks”
- “A Good Day’s Work”
I could have turned down this work or bemoaned working in this blue-collar manual job, but I did know it was only for a short time to help my friend’s business, and I did do it out of the mindset that I could learn something. I also tried to give back. I developed an idea for a training program to help my friend’s company partner with a larger corporation to use my friend’s company as a training academy to help prepare his temp workers for full-time employment at the partner corporation. I called the project, “Partnership for Progress” — He’s still considering it.
In “Individual Mastery“, the author challenges us to bring the best of our skills to any type of work:
“Do not be discouraged if you do not get into your coveted occupation at the beginning of your business life [or at any point in your career], but try to bring to every position you occupy all the thought, wisdom, and energy that are possible, so that you may prove to yourself and others you are a master of your work.”
The Types of Intelligence
In his article entitled, “9 Types of Intelligence” by Mark Vital, he identifies different social (or soft skills) as being equally important as technical (or hard skills). It is often the rare professional who can combine these skills to not only understand complex technical concepts, but be able to communicate those concepts to non-technical people.
“What other scientists thought were just soft-skills, such as interpersonal skills, Gardener realized were types of intelligence. It makes sense. Just as being a math whiz gives you the ability to understand the world, so does being “people smart” give you the same ability, just from a different perspective.”
Albert Einstein was especially adept at this when he created thought experiments which illustrated his complex physics theories. Here’s an example to help non-physicists understand the special theory of relativity:
Imagine you’re on a train and your friend is outside the train watching you pass. Now, if lighting strikes on both ends of the train your friend would see them strike at the same time. But since you are on the train you would see the lightning first because it has a shorter distance to travel. (source: https://www.vicphysics.org/documents/teachers/unit3/EinsteinsTrainGedanken.pdf)
So, based on the 9 types of intelligence, which areas are you “good” at? How can a combination of those good areas be leveraged to make your gifts and talents stand out in the world? After all this combination will determine if people will want to pay you for this combination or not.
By becoming too specialized, we actually limit our ability to innovate
In my development in my professional career, I have constantly wanted to expand my skill sets and learn new things. I started out in computer programming for a small mortgage company and as the company grew, my experience in software development and database management grew. I was promoted to CIO, but in the late 90’s, I learned how to create web pages when the Internet was commercialized. I then learned about big data and analytics.
I then moved into corporate training and learned a wide variety of things from blogging, gamification, teaching, presenting, video production, cloud development, app development, earning digital badges, mentoring, data science, etc. I have learned that the broader my interests and skills become, the more unique solutions I can offer. For it is often in the combination of these disparate good skills that I develop, that my true uniqueness and value shine.
With all of these skills I have developed Crystalized Intelligence.
“Crystallized intelligence is one’s lifetime of intellectual achievement, as demonstrated largely through one’s vocabulary and general knowledge. This improves somewhat with age, as experiences tend to expand one’s knowledge. Crystallized intelligence is indicated by a person’s depth and breadth of general knowledge, vocabulary, and the ability to reason using words and numbers. It is the product of educational and cultural experience in interaction with fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and solve problems, independent of any knowledge of the past.” (Source: LINK)
Crystallized intelligence helps you see things, consider possibilities and be innovative in ways that those with just fluid intelligence can’t do.
The one with fluid intelligence sees a shell. The person with crystallized intelligence sees an ocean of possibilities.
Earn Badges to prove that you are Multi-Hyphenate
One way that you can prove that you’re Multi-Hyphenate is to take courses on a broad range of subjects that earn you digital badges. The digital badges provide proof that you are “good”. Check out these 40 FREE badges represented in an Expandable Badges Mindmap that you can start earning today as a beginner. Taking your learning in multiple fields to the “good” level”:
- You don’t have to be the best at only one thing to be successful.
- You just have to be good at combining your good skills into unique offerings.
- Just like Scott Adams was good at being an artist, writer, comedian and business person.
- And Steve Martin was good at being a comedian, magician, actor and musician.
And I’ll leave you with this movie clip from one of my favorite Steve Martin movies showing his talent in singing and acting: “The Three Amigos” with Martin Short and Chevy Chase: (his movies have earned $1.7 billion at the box office)
BONUS: If you liked the three amigos, you might like the “Two Amigos” in their Netflix Comedy Special and if you don’t have Netflix, be prepared to laugh as they share comedy barbs on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
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Alesa saysFebruary 19, 2020 at 6:24 pm
Great post, Robert. FtR, Scott Adams has been my hero for decades!!! LOL!!