Secrets of the Expert Mind (part 3)

Do the concepts of expertise and excellence lead to a narrow focus on one thing, to the exclusion of all else? Does the kind of focus that it takes to become a top computer programmer necessarily mean that person will be the stereotypical “computer nerd?” I think not. Take the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He had his passions—not only paleontology and evolution but baseball as well, and could write intelligently about a wide range of subjects. His ability to draw from so many different areas is one thing that made him a very readable author (The Panda’s Thumb, Wonderful Life, many others).

I would say that for someone to be a leader or expert in one’s field, it is necessary to be broad as well as deep. I don’t just read about science and science education; I read books and articles about theology, geography, history, politics, culture, philosophy. The key is to find the right balance—and I do not claim to have found that balance yet—and to look for ties between the area of one’s expertise and the wider world. This breadth enables the expert to more effectively relate the significance of his or her work to others who have different areas of interest.

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