Is it better to be good at many things or great at one thing?

Efrain Martinez ‏@martefrain_: is it better to be good at many things or GREAT at one thing?

Answer: i think being good at many things makes one GREAT at the intersection of those things. Which is how industries are made. Steve Jobs was good, but not great, at design and at electronics. The intersection became Apple.

I’m frustrated. When I was a kid I wanted to be a GREAT chessplayer. I wanted to be the best in the world. At best, I ended up as “good” although some would argue even with that.

I wanted to be a GREAT novelist when I was in my 20s. I wrote three or four novels. I poured my heart into it. I talked about it with everyone. i forced all my friends to read my stuff. I forced my girlfriend at the time to read 500 pages of my crap and forced her to tell me she liked it when I knew she was lying. At best, and that’s a stretch, I was “decent”. Maybe not even good. But it was a way to put in my 10,000 hours getting better at something.

I wanted to be a GREAT computer scientist. A famous professor. Have brilliant ideas with many students. I wanted to be the GREATEST entrepreneur. The GREATEST investor.

None of these things I became great at. My failures were so abysmal it can be even argued i’m lucky nobodyever sued me. certainly I lost friendships in my attempts to be great and in my reluctance to settle with “mediocre”.

And yet, now I have a lot of stories to tell. I have a lot of things that I feel i am good enough at I appreciate the subtleties. I enjoy the artistry in many different things. I’m able to help other people with their businesses, their books,. their investments, their decisions, only because I made thousands of lousy ones in my attempts to be great.

Maybe one of these days I’ll be great at something. It’s no longer as important to me. I want to be GREAT at having nothing be important to me. And even that is a goal that I should try to reduce.

Better to have a theme than a goal. A goal can be frustrating because you might not achieve it. Or you achieve it and you say “what’s next”.

My theme then, is to be a good person. To be honest. To be simple. To reduce stress. To decrease the things I want to be great at. To enjoy the years I have here as much as possible. My theme is that I hope I answer these questions well enough.

My theme is to be good at enough things that the intersection of all these things, an intersection that is unique only to me, becomes a nexus of greatness.

[An additional aside: was just reading this morning Orson Scott Card’s book on “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy” and he has an interesting paragraph about elements he used in one of his books:

“You can’t afford to close off any area of inquiry. Writing the same book, I recently called upon ideas I learned from reading Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, “The Path to Power”, the detailed reference work on medieval village society, “The Lost Country Life”, Rafael Sabtaini’s romance, “Captain Blood”, Clifford Geertz’s “Interpretation of Cultures”, and Plato’s “Symposium”.