When I entered the work world thirteen years ago, the world seemed to be full of traditional occupations: Bankers, teachers, lawyers, stock brokers, doctors, and sales people. I was told in college that most likely the jobs we would have in the future weren’t even created yet. It turns out that the professors were true and with the rise of the internet and so many new types of entrepreneurial businesspeople, the value of new positions has changed drastically. Many specialist positions were created to focus on one single thing in a company or organization.
Specialists are wonderful and thank God for them, especially doctors who focus most of their waking hours on one single treatment or disease.
But, I’m also discovering that with the rise of so many specialists, especially in business, it is difficult to find people with a well-rounded knowledge about business in general.
These people are most commonly referred to as ‘renaissance men’, who are proficient in a variety of subjects. The people of history described as this come from the Renaissance era and have evolved since. People like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Branson, or despite the humor, someone like James Franco who tackles acting, writing, directing, and other random things while going to graduate school to learn more.
In baseball, this person is called a “utility player.” These players are a manager’s dream because they can play pretty much every position except pitcher and catcher. Whenever a player gets hurt or is not playing up to their game, the utility player can slide in to make a difference. In the major leagues, these people are well-known players like Michael Young, Ben Zobrist, and Hanley Ramirez. To the extreme, there was an amusing game in the 1980s when St. Louis Cardinals player Jose Oquendo played each position through the nine innings.
In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating encouraged his students to broaden themselves by using poetry as the medium. “
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
So where have the Renaissance people gone?
I think fear of the unknown is one of the biggest issues. I’ve also discovered even in my profession in publishing, you get looks if you are trying to learn about other jobs. The look is often says, “stick to your specialty, bud”. But, in my career the people I’ve admired the most and seem have the best perspective are the ones who have either done other jobs in publishing or have taken the time to learn about them. That was one of the greatest lessons I learned from my mentor and long-time publisher, David Moberg.
Being a Renaissance person doesn’t mean you give up your specialty. It means you become a more well-rounded person to better help others.
We can reclaim the Renaissance spirit by being explorers of the mind.
Here are five helpful challenges to become today’s Renaissance person.
- Each month, take out someone you work with who does something different from you and learn about it.
- Learn a new sport that challenges your physical and mental abilities.
- Read a book that is outside of your comfort zone. Browse your local bookstore or the library and pick something out.
- Travel. Visit places you never thought you’d visit and learn the culture, the language, the people.
- Share your experience with others as you learn.
Be a life-long student.
Be a utility player.
Be today’s renaissance person.
What about you?
What do you want to learn that is outside of your specialty?