Life hacks are a dime a dozen these days.

  • Wake up before dawn
  • Be selective in the content you consume
  • If someone’s feet are pointed away from you, then they want the conversation to end.
  • Spend 80% of your time on the headline
  • Etc. Etc.

While the authors of these articles may mean well, the result is a collection of tactics with limited usefulness.

In business, the overall strategy is way more important than the individual tactic. They allow you to test and experiment with a framework that’s always pushing you closer to your goals.

In this post, we’re going to look at the life hack that makes most of the other ones obsolete.

Lessons from a billionaire

Charlie Munger is half the dynamic duo that runs Berkshire Hathaway – one of the most successful investment firms in the world.

His strengths don’t come from focusing on macroeconomics and investment trends. They lie in a different area.

Bill Gates described Charlie Munger as:

“Truly the broadest thinker I have ever encountered. From business principles to the economic principles to the design of student dormitories to the design of a catamaran he has no equal… Our longest correspondence was a detailed discussion on the mating habits of naked mole rats and what the human species might learn from them.”

Not many people can talk about the mating habits of naked mole rats.

That’s not the point.

Munger’s success comes from his ability to absorb, categorize, and utilize a vast amount of information in his daily life.

He has become an expert in many disciplines.

In his words:

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none. Zero.”

Munger is the antithesis of focused expertise. Instead, he’s an expert generalist.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule which states:

It takes 10,000 hours of focused effort to become an expert at a given skill.

In our current society, expertise and focus are highly regarded.

People would rather work with the expert financial writer than the general writer. We’d rather pay for the person who specializes in solving our particular problem than the person who specializes in solving all problems.

We’ll even pay more when an expert has endorsed a product or service.

In certain fields, deep expertise is not only welcome but required.

A quantum physicist needs to be adept at what they do. The same can be said of a cardiovascular surgeon.

It’s different for business success

When you’re at the head of an organization or even a department within an organization, your technical abilities aren’t as important.

You might be a killer developer or marketer, but there’s more to it than that. You have to manage people, resources, and priorities. You’re in charge of coming up with far-reaching initiatives, predicting market shifts, and staying in front of the competition.

A cardiovascular surgeon in the hospital doesn’t need to worry about that. Their only job is to make sure the operation is successful. The interplay of different forces in the market is irrelevant to that goal.

The same can be said of a dentist or a developer. They just need to keep a narrow skill set sharp.

If you took the same approach to business, you’d close your doors in a year. The landscape is always changing, competition springs up, and best practices change.

The only way to stay relevant and cutting edge is to become adept in many fields. When you read, understand, and utilize all the information at your disposal, you’re able to draw novel connections.

Galileo is a famous polymath that made strides in both physics and astronomy. He was so successful because he had a different perspective earned through understanding different fields and how they work together.

Munger constantly fills his mind with new information across diverse subjects and creates mental models of the world. With those mental models, he’s able to understand, diagnose, and handle situations in a way no one else would.

When you adopt a learning mindset, you see problems in a different light, create solutions no one else thinks of, and outperform everyone in your space.

Why?

Because you have more opportunities to connect the dots.

How to know everything

You can’t know everything there is to know about even the narrowest subject. You can know enough to be proficient and draw connections between seemingly unrelated areas.

You aim to master and collect expertise in multiple disciplines, industries, skills, and topics then use that information to recognize patterns and bring the best solution to light.

People who’re proficient in multiple areas:

  • Can make better decisions
  • Create accurate predictions in their industry and beyond
  • Build strong and varied networks

Charlie Munger has published a lot of his ideas in Poor Charlies Almanac which I recommend you read. Instead of that, there are some steps you can follow to become an expert in diverse fields.

Your goal is to be among the top 20 -25% – not the top 1%.

The creator of the comic series Dilbert, Scott Adams has a refreshing perspective.

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

  1. Become the best at one specific thing.
  2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

You don’t need to be the best in every field you have an interest in. You just need to be good enough to have a deep understanding of how things work, the models they use, and the most important information.

In other words, you become pretty good at what you do, and people can recognize that expertise.

2. Choose three areas.

The strength of an expert generalist comes through understanding how disciplines interact with each other.

Elon Musk uses programming, existential philosophy, and reading to bring his ambitious projects to life while Marissa Mayer uses management, computer science, and linguistics to get an edge. Charlie Munger uses mental modeling, reading, and deep reflection to master a variety of disciplines and dominate the business world.

The key is to combine a hard skill like computer science with a soft skill like reading, and a perspective (way of looking at the world) like humanities to arrive at expert generalist status.

These are the people known as triple threats. You can even go on to become a quadruple threat, but it’s when you’re great at three things that people begin to notice.

What three skills could you combine?

Conclusion

The world moves faster than any single person, and there’s always more to learn. You have two options:

  1. Move with the times
  2. Get left behind

I’m sure you’re not interested in the second option at all.

To stay relevant and move with the times, you have to develop a large range of skills, a unique perspective, and a way to connect different disciplines.

An average life with average results is easy to achieve. It takes deliberate effort to become an expert generalist. It’s not impossible. All you have to do is decide.

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