Eclectic Curiosity

Two Ways: One and Many

Posted on March 9th, 2008, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Miscellany. No Comments

There’s a brilliant rant by William Tozier over at Notional Slurry about the merits (and innateness) of generalism. He argues that there are two ways to get things done: to specialize or to generalize – one and many. One of the things that frustrates him is that so many of the natural and even noble traits of generalists are regarded by society, culture, and commerce as inefficient, unfocused, unforeseen “delay”. As he so eloquently puts it:

You suck as a specialist; you’re not evolved to be one. Your meat wants you to pay attention to what’s around you, what’s inside you, the top part and the bottom part and the inside part. Your head keeps dragging you back into meandering daydreams. Your heart keeps making your head change, from day to day, subjecting your mythical “rational” mind to physiological buffets modern life doesn’t even have nonpathological descriptions for. Flowing through your blood are cortisol and adrenaline and you get a little jolt of reinforcement whenever you see a new pattern, a novelty, a pleasing distraction. Art. Ideas. Love. Facility. Engagement. Tits and six-pack abs. Any of those things. In the Real World (not the thought experiment), we call these “attention deficit”. “Inefficiencies”. “Lack of focus”. Distraction. Setback. Obstruction. Unforeseen circumstances. Delay.

Likewise, he cites various thinkers to argue the value of exploration versus exploitation, and to rail against the notion that distraction is poisonous and should always be replaced with diligence.

Frame the world and model its diverse parts, and envision them as just what they are, as arcs of the Big Circle. … In every one of those supposedly flitting ephemeral things that catch your eye, you should realize the common thread. I allow you, hereby and henceforth, to realize it. Go thou, be empowered, get your act together, and do so: These distractions have caught your attention because they are by definition related to one another. They draw you away from the focused, acceptable path of specialization, the burden of diligence, if only by the simple fact that you have seen them. You are a link. That’s the point. You’re not watching the world, you’re part of the world. In it. And better yet: you’re the part of the world that links these things together.

A truly excellent post; one that every creative generalist should read.

(Thanks Nadine and Sven!)

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