As a knowledge worker, you are essentially dealing with information; interpreting it, breaking it into neat pieces, and putting it together into new and better bundles.
So, let’s cover five broad-ranging skills that are helpful for high quality knowledge work:
Generalist Skill 1: Metacognition and higher self-awareness (understanding how you think about things and changing your mindset more often).
Generalist Skill 2: The ability to transfer ideas across industries. Seeing a concept become popular in one industry and being able to replicate it.
Generalist Skill 3: (related to above): Synthesis; broad, intuitive understanding of multiple fields and how they converge. This generally requires industry experience. Synthesis is conducive to the “bundling and unbundling” of industries; how they are either being broken up into pieces for specialization, or put back together for synergy effects. A similar process goes on with scientific disciplines and ideas.
Generalist Skill 4: Learning how to learn new things fast and make sense of complex concepts. This does not come about by itself. It requires effort. The best way to begin is by: creating a framework of learning, maximizing associative learning ) and to create a commonplace.
Generalist Skill 5: Having a good B.S detector. This requires erudition and/or experience. The amount of trickery, schtickery and humbug now increases so fast you can become a cynic in less than a month. This trend is reinforced by population growth and an easier world. It’s a numbers game – and the odds are in favor of more Homeostasis Dwellers. As P.T Barnum said, “there’s a sucker born every day”. The incentives to trick you will go up.
Make sure you get into a line of work where experience is put at a premium.
This is an unavoidable result in industries and niches where:
- There is a high rate of innovation and change.
- There is a skewed distribution between the best, the average, and the worst; and also represented in income levels.
- And, preferably, It’s difficult or time-consuming to gain the skills or network. Can’t just be learned by reading casual how-to guides on the Internet.
(Working as a pro in finance, IT, marketing, and various scientific fields are prime examples.)
There is a premium put on experience in most areas of complex knowledge work; where a novice cannot easily step in to do the work of an expert in the same field. Better yet, an expert should be 3-10x more valuable than a novice. Best of all: An expert should be better than 1000 novices; a “too-many-chefs-spoil-the-dish” kind of thing.
Expert Pattern Recognition is when people pay you big bucks just to show up.
Or like neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg said in our interview:
“Brain maturation occurs along several parallel themes. The human brain is not fully myelinated until the mid 20s, or early 30s. Then the brain begins to demyelinate in the mid 50s….. With age, we become increasingly established with strategies and patterns. “
It is possible to obtain EPR early in life, say, age 20-25, but it’s very rare. Like Martin Sandquist did with trading in the markets, (“Looking at a graph for 5-10 seconds is enough time for me to know whether to go long or short, because I’ve done this stuff so much that it’s become completely intuitive.”) You can draw an analogy to the 10,000-Hour principle (invented by Malcolm Gladwell). While the 10,000 Hour principle is a gross simplication, it does take a long time to become an expert and it’s not realistic for most people to obtain EPR before age 30-35.