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Last Updated on September 1, 2017

Does Learning Everything Make You Good at Nothing?

Does Learning Everything Make You Good at Nothing?

How would you define an expert? Experts tend to be seen as people who are extremely focused in one area and devote much of their time towards gaining and expanding knowledge in their particular subject. Repetitive practice, time and effort is usually thought of as the way to become truly talented and knowledgable in your one field. But is this really the case?

Why Being Too Focused Slows Us Down

While being solely focused on one thing can seem like the logical way to become an expert, it can actually have a detrimental effect on how we gain knowledge efficiently.

By focusing for too long and too much in one area, we are actually stopping ourselves from opening up to different thoughts, perspectives and connected subjects. When our brain enters focused learning mode, it puts all its energy and concentration on the one subject.

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This causes us to develop a set framework and mindset to approach a problem and limits our thinking and perspectives. The necessary stimulation that could help you think in new and different ways is hindered therefore, while practice does seem to make perfect, how you approach your practice is key to becoming a true expert.

The Key Learning Mode to Becoming an Expert

There are two major learning modes when it comes to our brain. One is focused learning mode which is when our mind is very concentrated and occupied entirely by the task or subject. The other learning mode is diffused thinking which is when our brain is in a more relaxed, free-flowing state and it’s in this mode that we can get inspiration and creative ideas on a subject we didn’t really spend time focusing on.

Diffuse mode takes your attention or pressure off a subject and allows your conscious mind to feel almost mindless. This allows ideas and framework-free, flowing connection within the brain. Focused mode could be doing a marathon study session with no distractions but diffused mode would be implemented through breaks, going for a walk, listening to music or exercising. In other words, taking part in an activity where your mind is seemingly free from focused thought.

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How Does This Fit in With Learning Effectively?

Effective learning and becoming an expert isn’t all about focusing on one skill. Real experts take a skill they’re good at and use it in different areas.

Paul Graham is a British computer scientist with engineering as his primary skill. However, he’s also managed to become an expert entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and blogger. He has helped dozens of well-known companies such as Dropbox and Airbnb alongside publishing books and writing dozens of articles on various subjects.

What’s the secret to Paul’s success? He takes his engineering expertise but instead of solely focusing on this one skill, he uses the knowledge of engineering concepts to break down problems and suggest solutions for businesses.

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The key to becoming an expert is to find connections between the framework of your expertise and other areas, applying the concepts to new things. By doing this, you can create new solutions and help yourself to practice your expertise at the same time.

The ability to utilise fundamental skills makes you the true expert

Steve Jobs didn’t just limit himself to computer science, he constantly reached to outgrow himself by thinking of unique and original elements that added value to his expertise. He made the realisation that computers shouldn’t just be a tool but could have the potential to be stylish and beautifully designed making them fashionable, everyday items. Combining these two concepts of design and engineering is how the MacBook was created and this thinking is exactly how Apple manage to outgrow their competitors every time.

Becoming an expert and focusing on those sets of skills is crucial for basic success. But what will make you grow and become even more successful is allowing yourself to learn new things that stimulate your thinking. This constant evolving new ideas is how you progress your learning in your expertise.

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Becoming an expert is about combining ideas that help create innovative out-of-the-box solutions. The key is, when learning something new, ask yourself how can I apply this to what I already know? By doing this you stop being stagnant and you create new pathways that can take you to new heights and successes.

Featured photo credit: Startup Stock Photos via pexels.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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