TED Conversations

Satish Kumar Tiwari

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Is it better to be a master at just one thing than being good at several things?

I am at a point in my life where I see many of my childhood friends who used to be just good at sports or studying or in any art and I used to be, infact still am good at sports and studies. But after so many years of doing the same one thing that they were good at, they have mastered that one thing so well that they have made a very nice career out of it and are infact happy. Observing all this I now feel is it better to be good or above average at doing several things(so called an allrounder) than being a master of a single art?

+1
Share:
progress indicator
  • thumb
    Dec 18 2013: Great question! The best strategy depends so much, I think, on the person and his interests. Some people choose one thing that captivates them and is broad enough to sustain their interest and to offer great learning opportunities across a lifetime. Others focus on one narrow thing and become good at it but lose their interest in it and then need to embark on something else later in life or stay with something that has become boring.

    I think it is a great strategy to lay down a solid base of learning and experience that makes it possible to move in a number of directions over the course of a life and career rather than specializing too soon and losing that flexibility.

    One thing it pays for everyone to be good at is being a life long learner.
  • thumb
    Dec 18 2013: I think that this all depends on what captivates you. I myself love videogames. I started playing when I was like 3 years old, and I've been playing ever since then, and to this day, I find myself a master at what I do. Its like you said yourself, after so many years of doing the same thing, you get good at it. I do also believe that its important to be good at various things, rather than just one. Get good at one thing, and move on to something different, and master whatever that thing is.
  • thumb
    Dec 18 2013: I consider myself to be a jack of all trades - expert of none. The world has so many "experts" http://www.ted.com/talks/noreena_hertz_how_to_use_experts_and_when_not_to.html and that's all good. But what the world is really lacking I think are people who understand more of the whole picture. And You can get 90% of the way to knowing something quite fast, it's that last 10% that takes the rest of your life. So if you wish to be useful I think that your on the right path. However there's a problem with jobs when it comes to this as most companies can't see the value that such people may bring, and would rather hire people who have "specific skills".

    Steve jobs for example said that taking a calligraphy course was one of the best things that he had done for computers.

    It's better to be broad, but to get a job you should also specialize in something, at least to a point.
    • Dec 19 2013: That's right Jimmy. Nobody can just give up the things that they love doing just for the sake of what most companies want you to be. Excelling in job is as important as being natural and being content with what one does. Thanks for the ted talk suggestion.
  • Dec 31 2013: There are 2 kinds of mastering things:
    1. Many activities have to be mastered by repetition or repetitive practices plus an innate capability to succeed in such activities. These activities include mental or intelligent, as well as athletic, capabilities.
    2. As to whether a particular person should prefer to master certain activity, then it certainly depend on his individual choice. Even the achievement levels in multiple efforts in mastering the chosen activities are also dependent on the personal capability and perseverance. A strong desire or competitive spirit usually dictates whether a person will persistently devote all his time and efforts to become a number 1 in something he decides to reach that goal, sometimes even put his life on the line as well.
    Personally I am, just like you, more interested in learning many things (and became quite good at them too), but am also getting bored of trying to "master" (in the sense of being a champion in any of these activities) any of them. this is because I am not the type in having a strong desire to be the absolute number 1, on the other hand, I also have the desire to try on anything (including academic, intellectual, logic and a few mild athletic games) which I like very much. For example, I work, and become quite good, on solving one "sudoku" game and one word puzzle every day, just for my enjoyment as well as for my brain health, and have no desire to join any contest in these games at all.
    In summary, the choice is really dependent on one's temperament, or perhaps on the desire of whether one prefers personal fame (of being a national or world champion) or just personal enjoyment and satisfaction.
  • thumb
    Dec 25 2013: It is best to do whatever makes you happy!
    "The purpose of our lives is to be happy." - Dalai Lama
    "As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."- Friedrich Nietzsche
    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”- Bob Dylan
  • Dec 21 2013: Several people have said it depends on the individual. We all start working in a single area/problem. Some are interested in going deeper into the problem and work the problem for 20-30 years. Others like me work on a problem until we reach a certain level of understanding and realize that another technology/problem area is needed to complete a total solution. These people start working on architectures/solutions/systems
  • Dec 19 2013: To be one to the exclusion of the other is a Belief.
    Question the Belief.
    • Dec 19 2013: Have to admit here Scott it took me a while to grasp that but I did question the belief , same reason why I posted thet very question here.
  • thumb
    Dec 18 2013: Hi Satish,

    I think that it depends on who you are. There are many people who master a single art and become successful; there are also many people who are good at doing several things and become successful. There is just not a definite answer about this question. Thus, what I would say is following your heart and learning whatever you want to learn.
  • Dec 18 2013: Thanks for your comment Fritzie. Loved your last line about being a life long learner, so true!