Becoming an educated person means taking the path of most resistance and receiving information from a variety of sources, investigative reporter David Epstein told BYU students in a Jan. 26 forum.
He said the path of most resistance consists of constantly fighting against becoming specialized.
Epstein’s favorite quote, “Jack of all trades, master of none, oftentimes better than a master of one,” illustrates the difference between a specialist (master of one) and a generalist (master of none). Students can become a “jack of all trades” by being well-rounded and diversifying their sources of information and experiences, he said.
“The process of testing and learning to diversifying your experiences, diversifying your information sources, is one that should follow you your whole life if you want to continue to be an educated person in this world that will change around you,” he said.
Epstein said in his research of elite athletes, the athletes who became the best in their sport were those who in their youth had what he called “a sampling period.” In this period, they focused less on one sport and more on diversifying their skills.
This shows that the path of least resistance does not lead to ultimate success. Epstein said that in order to become “elite,” people must go through a series of learning experiences that stretch themselves and help them to continually develop and grow.
He said this again by using examples from famous people such as Duke Ellington, Maryam Mirzakhani and Vincent Van Gogh. Their paths to success were not linear, or ones they saw themselves achieving when they were young.
Epstein said he believes that the “tidy” narratives of Tiger Woods’ and Mark Zuckerberg’s paths to success are not the norm, but the exception. They may be the ones that are most talked about as success stories, but Epstein’s research shows that specializing early and not branching out can lead to bad results.
“Those kinds of environments where we are sometimes urged to specialize too early and narrowly can actually backfire really badly,” he said.
Epstein said people can avoid specialization by exchanging and sharing ideas and information with those around them. “You need to diversify your information sources to keep a broad view because otherwise, your view will get narrow.”
He said students can diversify their sources of information by getting ideas from different perspectives, or developing what he described as “dragonfly eyes.”
Epstein said students need to go through the process of learning about themselves to become like the elite. Like Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, there are more changes that will happen in people’s lives before they are complete. “We are really works in progress claiming to be finished.”