Profound Quotes #002 - Specialization Is For Insects
By Leo Gura - March 5, 2014 | 2 Comments
A look at a beautiful insight from Robert Heinlein about how to live life.
Hey, this is Leo for Actualized.org and I’m coming at you with another profound quote.
‘Specialization is for insects. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set bones, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.’
That is a quote from Robert Heinlein, author of Starship Troopers science fiction novel. What is this quote about? ‘Specialization is for insects’. I love this idea. There’s something powerful here.
The Market Forces You To Be More Specialized
The power of this quote lies in the fact that as our society advances, we tend to get more and more specialized and we tend to be putting ourselves in positions where we become very focused on one or two things in our life that we get really good at. This usually revolves around your career, your vocation. We get so focused on that and the pressures of the world, the pressures of business, the pressures of the market place are forcing us to specialize that we lose touch with really who we are. The robustness of being a human being.
On the one hand market forces are pushing us to be more specialized. By more specialized I mean, if you’re an engineer, you need to be a specific type of engineer. You need to maybe be an electrical engineer. Within electrical engineering you need to pick a sub-specialty of something maybe computers.
Within computers you need to pick another sub-specialty of maybe you work on microprocessors chips, microchips and so you work on that. Maybe within that there’s a sub-specialty and another sub-specialty and another sub-specialty and ultimately what you end up doing is working within a very narrow slice of what is possible for you out there in life. Then what happens is the rest of your life kind of like a little appendage to that specialty that you’re really good at.
Maybe if you’re, for example, a graphic designer, then you’re a graphic designer but you start to specialize within something within graphic design. So maybe you graphic design for magazines and maybe a specific type of magazine, you’ll only do graphic design for health and fitness magazines and maybe even more specialized that that, it’s health and fitness magazines for elderly women, or something like that. You’re very focused on that and that becomes your niche.
Be A Renaissance Man
There’s something powerful in that. I actually think that you need to have that, you need to be able to develop a deep proficiency in something to be successful in life, but there’s also something lost there so you also need to scale back and step back and become really that concept of being a renaissance man. Whatever happened to that idea of being a renaissance man? Just the value that was placed on that to be a full, robust, fulfilled human being.
To be really fulfilled in your soul, I think, you need this. You need to challenge yourself to be a student of life. I don’t even now mean just psychology, I mean have interests. Be interested in everything in life.
I like to tell myself that I can be literally interested in anything, and I am. I have diverse interests and I’m interested in a lot of things. I’m interested in cooking, I’m interested in fitness, I’m interested in psychology obviously because I’m shooting these videos, I’m interested in science, I’m interested in cosmology, I’m interested in philosophy, I’m interested in literature, I’m interested in history, I’m interested in biographies, I’m interested in politics and social dynamics, I’m interested in computer programming, I’m interested in graphic designing, I’m interested in fine art, I’m interested in human relations, I’m interested in management, I’m interested in business, I’m interested in marketing, I’m interested in all of it.
Whatever the list is, I’m curious about it. Some things more than others, but generally any topic I can find myself being interested in. I love art. I love just the beauty of looking at a nice painting, a classic painting like a Van Gogh, going to a gallery and looking at a Van Gogh up in person, or looking at a Cezanne, looking at any of the post impressionists which I love. I love to look at just paintings in books because I don’t get to go to museums that often but I like to look at paintings in books.
I like to look at graphic design. I like to look at designs of websites. To me even though that can have value in my business, I often do that just for itself. Just for the sake of it. I’m curious.
I’m curious about history. I’m curious about how humanity has evolved. I’m curious about all the historical events that have happened and all the historical figures. Figures like Hitler and Hitler’s like, Napoleon. I’m interested in philosophers from ancient times.
I’m interested to pick the brains of great figures in history both figures that were great in a good way and figures that were great in an evil way like Hitler. I have books on Hitler. Sometimes people come to my apartment and they see my bookshelf and one of the fattest books I’ve got is this book and it says in bright white and red letters it says ‘Adolf’ on it and people are shocked and they ask, “Why do you have a book on Hitler?” Because it’s fascinating!
Aren’t you fascinated by that phenomenon? Aren’t you fascinated about a human being who created such a profound impact in the 20th century? Who had such a profound impact? Whose actions and thoughts literally influenced the trajectory of humanity and led to the deaths of millions, tens of millions of people, but also not only that, but looking beyond that, just seeing the whole repercussions of that. What that led up to, the technological advances via the motivations that Hitler had.
That’s fascinating to me. How could a man like that come about? What drove him? I think that everyone should be fascinated by Hitler. I think everyone should be fascinated by philosophy, I think everyone should be fascinated by science and history and art. This is life, why are you not fascinated by this stuff?
It Makes You A Humanist
There’s two points here. One point is that this opens you up. This really makes you a humanist. This gives you a worldly view of what the hell is going on. It makes you more open minded and what it does is it builds wisdom in you so first of all it’s just beautiful.
This is something that you can take a lot of pleasure in just for its own sake, but also it builds that wisdom which I actually find is quite rare and I find that it’s powerful in subtle ways. Right now you might be listening to this video and thinking, “How does this apply to my job or my life or my love life or something like that?” There’s no direct, easy way to say that reading books about history and science will have direct application, but actually they will.
What’s going to happen is that over time as you’re reading and you’re studying these subjects and you’re curious and you’re expanding yourself and you’re being fully human, what you start to develop in yourself is you develop a sense of judgment and a sense of wisdom so you’re able to have a more keen perceptive mind that will then spill over into all areas of your life. It will most definitely impact your business and how you manage your business. What’s going to happen with business is if you become someone who is worldly, who knows history, who knows science, who understands politics and has an interest in all these things, first of all you’re going to have more creative ideas with the direction your business can go in.
You’re also going to be more conscious about the impact of that business on the world at large and on people, so you’re going to run a more conscious business. The values of that business will not just be about making money, it will be about making a positive impact. Also, you are going to be more of a long term thinker and you’re going to be able to deal with some of those tough decisions that you have to make in business, you’re going to be able to deal with them better.
You’re going to be able to be a better strategist. You’re going to see very far down the road. You’re going to make very wise decisions rather than making those easy quick fix decisions that might do something for you right now but eventually will lead to problems and catastrophes down the road. So in the end developing this kind of wisdom and judgment can probably make the difference between whether your business is going to fail or succeed. I’ve definitely seen this in my life. That’s one powerful example.
How about in your relationships? It will have an effect there. How about in your personal development? That wisdom and judgment is going to have a huge effect on your personal development. How about your hobbies, do you think your hobbies will be influenced by this? Yeah.
It Affects Every Aspect Of Your Life
Basically your whole life. The way you raise your family, the way you educate your kids, the way you interact with your spouse, the way that you interact with people, the kind leader that you are, the kind of manager that you are if you’re in a leadership or management position, your vocabulary, your ability to spell, your understanding of issues, your ability to be conned and to be swindled and to be susceptible to the shady marketing that is so rampant in society nowadays, to withstand that. Even your ability to stay healthy will be affected by this.
This is the power of this idea. Do not become too specialized. This can be a challenge because you have these forces in the marketplace that are telling you to specialize and specialize and specialize.
What you’ve got to do is you’ve to be a bit of a rebel. Yes, on the one hand you do have to specialize sometimes and you should with your work, but also at the same time you have to step back, create opportunities to build your worldliness, to build your understanding of culture, of life of science. When you do that, you become a well-educated, grounded, human being and this is part of the self-actualization process.
Don’t Be An Excellent Stupid Person
A self-actualized human is not someone who’s just really good at one thing. You can find excellent people who are really, I would say, stupid. They are so limited in what they know that they are just very mechanical. They become a machine and they might become a very efficient and good machine, but then what do they really know about life? What do they know about humanity? What do they just experience over all?
For example, take someone like an Olympic athlete. An Olympic athlete trains their ass off for years and years and years really, really hard and they become really good at what they do and to me that’s a beautiful thing but also I think that they sacrifice because they become so specialized they become like an insect. They become very good at mechanically doing that one thing, but they might sacrifice some of these larger things.
Do they understand business? Do they understand marketing? Do they understand psychology? I’m sure some of them do. I’m sure some of them are great and in fact they’re both specialized and generalized, but I also think that you can imagine that some of them are so focused and so specialized on just one domain of life that they’re really missing out.
I think that one of the beautiful thing about life is you have an opportunity to experience a lot of it. I think people really limit themselves when they say, “I’m only interested in this little hobby here, this little topic here” Why?
Why aren’t you interested in all of it? Why are you making judgments in taste? Why not be someone who tastes and samples all of life? When you do that what you realize is that you actually come into a true deep understanding of who you are and what your true likes in this life are.
Sample As Much As You Can
A lot of people they will specialize in one thing and they will be so focused on it that they never really went out there and sampled. When they didn’t go out and sample, their decision to specialize is only based on really circumstance. They just happened to fall into something. They didn’t really choose it and they don’t know, maybe there’s something better out there.
This is one of the ways that you can go about finding your life purpose. Your true life purpose. You go out and you take the time and you do the work and you actually go out there and you explore around, you travel, you read books, you read blogs, you enjoy different types of food, you enjoy different types of art and culture and film and you are open minded to it all.
Music. You listen to club music, you maybe listen to rap music, you also listen to classical music. You don’t have to focus on one of them. Go and try all of it. You’ll naturally have inclinations to one or two of those, but why not expand? Expand yourself. Experience life.
Ultimately what are you here for? What is your purpose? Is it to just work? Is to just earn a paycheck? Is it to just buy a house and retire comfortably?
No. I think for a self-actualized human being the purpose of life, realizing that it’s short, is to experience it. Is that a purpose that you have? It’s personally a purpose that I have, is I want to experience life.
I want to both experience it sensually with my senses, I also want to experience all of life with my intellect, with my mind. That’s why I love reading diverse topics, talking about diverse topics. I like philosophy and history and science because I want to experience all those with my mind. It’s interesting, there’s differences and similarities and you find patterns, it’s fucking cool!
Then also sensually I want to experience it. I want to live in different countries. I want to try different foods. I want to live in different cities, different types of cities, big cities, little cities, compare and have those experiences. There’s something that happens to you that’s very difficult to quantify and articulate.
Build Some Worldliness In You
It’s something intangible when you have a lot of life experience. When you’ve lived in different places, when you know different languages, when you’ve interacted with a diverse group of people. This is one of the reasons why in colleges will force you to take breadth requirements and why they will try to have a diverse population of students on the campus. It’s this idea of building up a certain worldliness within you. They’re trying to instill that within you.
That’s why they make you take art classes when you’re a science major, and why they’ll make you take some science classes if you’re an art major. It opens you up. That shouldn’t stop at college. In fact I think college is just the tip of the iceberg.
After you graduate you should be out there experiencing life, taking it in. Don’t be so specialized that you become an insect, a drone. On the one level, on one hand, that is a way to become successful. On the other hand, you also notice that this is something that Seth Godin talks about, is that for you to be successful in this new century, you need to develop some skills and some thinking abilities that are beyond just simple mechanical function.
Mechanical functions are very quickly being made obsolete with technology. Technology’s becoming very, very good at replacing human beings at doing mundane thing and this even goes for specialized things. In something that maybe right now robots or machines cannot do, over time they will be able to do it.
The really difficult thing, maybe the impossible thing at least in the foreseeable future, for computers or robots to do is to get at this very intangible high level of thinking, judgment and wisdom. That is something that we’re not even close to replicating. That is where you want to be at because that’s where you can generate a lot of value.
When you’re there it feels so good, it feels so rich, your life feels rich and you have all these opportunities to share with people and you know so much more about yourself, and you know how to make yourself fulfilled. Just that process of expanding yourself, becoming open-minded, becoming a renaissance man, that’s powerful. There’s an ineffable power there that’s difficult to articulate and I think that we take for granted.
So take Robert Heinlein’s advice and don’t specialize because specialization is for insects.
All right, this is Leo, I’m going to be signing off. This was a profound quote section where we talk about the most profound ideas, the most profound quotes in human history. I bring those to you, I analyze them and we talk about how it can apply in your life in a practical way.
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