Why you should take the time to master a single skill
By going deep into one subject, we learn how to learn – a priceless ability.
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What is the value of this metaskill today?Skip to next paragraph
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In our present world of high speed, instant response, and multimedia, words like discipline are little used, and spending 10 years to master one skill sounds quaint. And besides, it takes time away from myriad other options we now have at our fingertips. Does learning how to do one thing really well have any economic or personal significance anymore?
David Perkins, Harvard educationalist and author of the popular article "Educating for the Unknown," stresses that, since we don't know what skills tomorrow will require from our children, our schools must strive to impart real understanding and the ability to apply knowledge to new situations.
Perhaps the deep learning of a single subject can provide that required general reference point to handle different and new situations, not to mention the patience and fortitude to try, try again.
In the business world, the analogous idea may be the vertical business model, which goes deep into one industry and follows the product from beginning to end.
The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. encourages its consultants to build a "spike," or perhaps it should be called a trough: a deep knowledge of a specific industry or practice.
In our personal world, it may imply the steady and consistent cultivation of long-term relationships. And in our spiritual world, that single deep trough may be one we return to drink from time and time again over the years for enjoyment, solace, or simply to center ourselves within our otherwise changing lives.
As my hands descend onto the piano keyboard and I begin the first line of Beethoven's "Für Elise," I become one with the music. There's no boundary between player and song. I play it again and again, carried away by the visceral understanding, integral bond, and perfect sound.
As the music finally ends and silence falls, a feeling of satisfaction sweeps over me, satisfaction that after dogged persistence and long practice I have finally accomplished it. And now, to work on the second line.
• Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, academic, and business editor, currently based in New Delhi.
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