I’m currently reading Range by David Epstein. In the book, the author argues in favor of generalists over specialists in the current world. In particular, one passage struck me:
Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least twenty-two times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or some other type of performer.
In today’s world where Adam Smith’s division of labor is taken as an universal truth, Epstein offers a refreshing perspective. The previous quote suggests is that hobbies instead of distracting you from your main profession, actually reinforces it.
My hypothesis is that they create mental bridges among the seemingly different fields. Examples could be the use of the mathematical concept of Golden Ratio in art composition, the introduction of minimalist design at Apple, or the intersection of entrepreneurship and public speaking. Therefore, by creating the appropriate mental bridges, the second apparently non-related field actually helps the first one, and vice-versa.
Tim Ferriss, in the recent video “Should You Specialize or Be a Generalist?” talks about the specialist/generalist dilemma. His answer is to be a specialized generalist, where you master a handful of skills that are rarely combined, and precisely because of that, will give you a competitive advantage.
In our modern economy where specialization is advocated, a lot of generalists feel out of place. Instead of discarding your hobbies, finding the synergies between them and your main activity might make you grow even more than your specialist friend.