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Well-rounded: the virtue of many interests

Shares Here is something really personal: for a while now I have been struggling with admitting that I have many interests and with the fact that my background seems really unfocussed because of this ‘diversity’. I am interested in politics and have studied it as an undergraduate degree and practiced it as a leader of […]

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Here is something really personal: for a while now I have been struggling with admitting that I have many interests and with the fact that my background seems really unfocussed because of this ‘diversity’. I am interested in politics and have studied it as an undergraduate degree and practiced it as a leader of a youth political organization. I have worked in real estate and now in technology and got a MBA degree. My passion for wine led me to create a wine blog several years ago.

I like to believe this makes me an interesting person to talk to, but ever since going to business school I have been feeling a little uneasy about the fact that I don’t have a ‘clear focus’. This is unsurprising, provided that career office officials spent a lot of time hammering in the heads of MBA students that they need to show how dedicated they are to a single purpose in life.

Of course, very few of my peers had such a clear view of what they wanted to do after b-school. But even when they lacked it, they came up with stories, showing such focus. I, on the other hand, found this really challenging – I always thought curiosity was part of my identity and with it came this plethora or interests, activities, and experiences. After a while, it became a source of anxiety.

Now, a year after I have graduated, I am trying to reclaim this ‘diversity’ of interests as a focal point of my identity. This website is part of the process – I am directly going against the advice of ‘find a niche, exploit it to the end’ and instead have chosen to write about whatever I feel like writing about (this also applies to my Twitter feed which is a mishmash of tweets about marketing, football, Game of Thrones, etc.)

It’s really important to point out that this is by no way a manifesto against people who have a clear focus in their life – they have many advantages and do really well in their chosen fields. But I firmly believe that well-rounded people have a lot to contribute to companies, organizations, and society as a whole. Here is why.

The virtue of diversity

Although diversity has been emptied of meaning, its central tenet – that different backgrounds bring different point of view – holds true. Unfortunately, instead of truly looking for diversity of experience, companies have rather opted to feign diversity by collecting baskets of external signs – like gender or race. Instead of check marking external features off a list, we should focus on finding people whose background and way of thinking really has to offer something new.

The reason is that well-rounded people are the ones who are capable of delivering paradigm shifts.

Paradigm shifts

I am recent convert to “The Church of Apple”, but I always remember one thing about the early life of Steve Jobs. It’s the story about how he dropped out of college, but stayed around and only attended the classes he was truly interested in. One of those was a class on calligraphy. This early foray into design and how it affects our behavior was later translated in Apple’s insane focus on creating products which are intuitive and easy to use.

This refocussing of technology from “geeks only” to “everyone is welcome” is one of the reasons why it became so intertwined with our everyday lives. This transformation in the understanding of the place of computers in everyday lives is what I call a paradigm shift. And it all started with an interest in type (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). Of course, Apple also made billions of dollars in the process.

Therefore, instead of creating a culture of ultra-focussed people, I think we should cherish and actively encourage people to broaden their mindsets. After all, access to information and knowledge has never been easier and it would be criminal to put a cage on curiosity.

Just after I finished writing this, I stumbled upon this article which provides the scientific backing why diversity is good for you and your organization.

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