Learning is the never ending process of gaining knowledge by studying (self-learning), being taught or simply by experience. Clearly, and unlike what most people think, the term “learning” is not the equivalent of the word “education”, and school is not the only place to gather knowledge. Life is the greatest teacher as they say, and believe it or not, we “unconsciously” learn much more than what we do “consciously”. More interestingly, most of these “unconsciously learnt” skills are crucial, if not vital, for our existence. Walking, talking, expressing emotions, avoiding harm, are good examples, but far from the only.
However, that’s not what we will be discussing here, so that can wait for another occasion. In this article, we will only stick with the “conscious” learning. But first of all, what does that mean?
Well, consciously learnt skills are whatever knowledge we intentionally devote ourselves to learn and master. The categories of those said skills wildly vary from science, maths and literature to cooking, sports and anything in between. With this definition in mind, let me raise a question here:
Excluding the abilities we need to practice in our daily life (cooking, cleaning... etc.), which is better for your professional career: limiting yourself to a single domain to fully understand it, or expanding your acquired knowledge to cover two or more fields?
To avoid any possible complications, let me rephrase the question:
Assume that you chose working in the medical field as a career. Will you solely focus on medicine, or will you have an interest in exploring other domains as well? Which sounds more effective to you?
Most people won’t think twice before giving an answer which is, for them at least, quite obvious: learning more than one speciality is not only a distraction but also a waste of time and it is not needed anyway.
Personally, I don’t share this point of view. Expanding your knowledge fields is not a waste of time and will never be, and it is certainly not a distraction either. What will happen is the exact opposite; you would pay more attention to details you were not even aware that they existed before. Your creativity and problem solving skills will increase as you develop better understanding of your surroundings. This kind of mixed knowledge will definitely enlarge your mind and therefore your abilities. How can that be a waste of time?
Mixed knowledge is of a high value; it is very significant and can’t be skipped without laying emphasis on its importance. I mean, think about it: most inventions and discoveries were made by scientists who specialised in two or more fields.
Willem Johan Kolff (1911-2009) is merely one of numerous examples to confirm the statement above. The Dutch physician is very well known for being the “father” of artificial organs; he is the pioneer of both haemodialysis (the dialysis machine), and the artificial heart. Not to mention plenty of other discoveries in the same field. In order to save hundreds of thousands of lives, Kloff had to combine his knowledge in the medical field, the experience he gathered as a physician and some engineering principles to realise his goal. A goal he would never had reached if he narrowed his knowledge to a single field.
Still not convincing enough? If so, then it seems you are not aware that expanding your knowledge means expanding your chances of success. Learn various and different topics, and congratulations! You just earned yourself an ace up your sleeve, an ace which will significantly increase your success rate. To erase any doubts you still might have, let’s put an example under the spotlight. And who might better fit for the task than the famous Elon Musk.
Elon is currently running a few of the world’s best known companies. These companies are interested in different domains - from finance to space rockets - and each of them is worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars. It is quite an achievement for a single individual. Right?
Without doubt, this success is the combination of many factors, one of which is hard work. However, that alone won’t get you too far. As a matter of fact, numerous are the people who work for more than 12 hours a day, yet their vast majority did never, and probably will not, achieve 1% of what Musk achieved. Do you want to guess why?
Unlike those people, Musk didn’t limit himself to one field. He exploited his knowledge of electrical engineering and clean energy to create Tesla. He also employed what he learned about neurotechnology, the science of understanding the human brain with the help of advanced technology, to co-found Neuralink.
The point is clear, I hope, alhough there is still one question floating on the surface.
Learning about a certain field is already a long and complicated process, let alone two or more fields. Is there a way to make the process faster and a bit easier?
Actually yes, there is a way, and it is easier than it seems. Whenever you plan on learning about a new topic, start learning the basics first and don’t get too involved in understanding the details. At a later stage, those details will stick easily in your mind after a good comprehension of the basics. As a structure, any topic to learn is the same as trees - with branches as the basics, and leaves as details. Leaves need branches to stick on, and so do details. If you focus on details rather than the basics and principles, then all you have are random pieces of information with nothing to connect them. That would definitely make understanding a topic much harder than it already is.
To make the idea plain, a practical example might help:
Say that you are interested in learning how a car engine works. It is necessary to understand how it functions as a whole first, and then you learn about each of the engine’s components.
That is the most effective way of learning, and this quote summarizes it all: “It is better to know how to learn, than to just know.”