In today’s article, I want to get into the subject of going narrow and deep versus going broad and shallow. Some advice suggests we should diversify, be skilled in many areas – broad and shallow in other words. Contrary advice says we should focus intently on one area and become expert at that – narrow and deep. After much inner deliberation, and consideration of my views on the merits in the narrow approach, where creative work is concerned, I find there is a balance that must be met.
Going Narrow & Deep
I’m a member of a local gym where the focus is on lifting heavy and getting strong. Powerlifting is their thing and they are very focused and dedicated people.
I’ve noticed over the last three months that I’ve become much stronger and muscle mass has increased. My overall bodyweight has increased as I’ve trained and percentage body fat has remained stagnant.
Now, I could have paid more attention to my diet and in doing so brought that body fat figure down, but I like my croissants and Belgian chocolate!
You can’t have both! you say.
For many people maybe not, but I know my body and I’ve proved to myself over and over that I actually can have certain indulgences while staying in good shape.
But something with regard to my training was missing and I knew it.
I was building muscle, and getting stronger than I had in several years but I wasn’t getting the definition that I expected. I needed an aerobic element to my training, I needed to get out of breath – lifting weights wasn’t enough.
The guys a the gym were strong dudes. They were focused and skilled and I learned a lot about how to lift efficiently. They were following a narrow and deep philosophy with regard to training, and within their domain they were expert.
Just don’t ask them to run a 10k!
I knew that if I dedicated myself to this particular narrow field that I could become good and develop serious lifting strength but I wanted something else.
The tuition was valuable, but I wasn’t turning any of that extra me into CO2. I needed a little more gas in my workouts. I was accustomed to training that way and I needed to reintroduce it to meet my own particular goals.
I received a benefit from becoming more focused for those three months, an advantage that I will hold. But for me, I needed a slightly broader focus.
Applying Broad And Shallow Focus
Everyone wants your attention.
Those fuckers just won’t leave you alone. They need to continually sell to be viable and they need you to notice them to make that happen.
Everyone does it.
Consultants, web designers, insurance companies, banks, car dealers, big and small companies alike. The world is filled with people chasing fulfilment in a future that never gets here.
Rats in wheels.
They are convinced that bigger is better. More sales, bigger business, more commission, more people, more profit, etc. And they are willing to sacrifice everything to get it.
Their entire modus operandi is to sell you a vacuous solution that promises to make you beautiful, famous, successful, or wealthy. And they couldn’t care less if it’s right for you or not.
The problems for you and I begin when we believe the hype. You see, they know more about what motivates us than we do. And they have the tools to make us believe them.
We’re not present enough to see the truth.
Desperate for success we are ripe for the picking. We believe the promises they make and we spread ourselves way too thin trying to implement all these things they say we need to do.
Scattered ineffective action.
Going Broad & Shallow When You’re Not Ready
A short while ago I was working with a client, let’s call him Dave. He was a writer. He hired me to help him with MailChimp, build his email list and develop an (ethical) email marketing strategy.
Dave was an experienced writer and teacher of the craft, but he was in a little financial trouble. Desperate to generate enough income to cover his outgoings, he was jumping at everything that moved.
Everything was important.
He was taking a business course, teaching, getting caught up in website problems, Facebook ads, SEO, and trying to hold a presence on multiple social platforms.
With focus outside his core work, and with multiple plates spinning, he was suffering overwhelm.
He was completely immersed in the minutiae of every
His focus on everything made him master of none.
Dave wasn’t ready or equipped to take on all these elements. He, for one reason or another, was convinced that to be successful in business he needed to be everywhere.
Everyone else had the solution except him.
Little did he realise that if he only focused on creating his core work to the very best level he could, spending less time spread thinly across multiple tasks, then he would get noticed.
That’s not to say he shouldn’t spend time marketing.
On the contrary, a couple hours per day marketing is time well spent, but to place this secondary work above the core work is a mistake.
I don’t know where Dave is today but I hope he managed to get rid of the distractions enough to make his business work.
Dave struggled because he hadn’t applied sufficient narrow focus. He was broadly focused and he made a shallow impact.
The Perfect Blend of Narrow & Deep, and Broad & Shallow
To reach my fitness goals, or any goal for that matter, I realise I need to focus on one aspect at a time and develop a reasonable aptitude there. Then tomorrow, I’ll focus on something else.
I have no intention of becoming world class you see, I just want to be fit, strong and lean and I know from previous experience how best to achieve that.
If I want to be a champion powerlifter then I’ll need to train that specific set of skills daily, 6 or 7 days per week.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t run or skip or cycle.
Developing a broad understanding of these other skills will benefit me in powerlifting and help me stay aerobically fit, but I don’t need to know them inside out – besides how could I?
If I want to be a marathon runner, then I’ve got to run long distance most of the time and compliment that with lifting heavy weights.
So it is with that thing we want to be known for, that we must dedicate our time, attention and focus to for long periods every day then compliment that with other activities.
In not knowing where to place our focus, in our inability to go deep, we become targets for others who want and need our attention.
And in that, there is unfulfilment and disharmony.
Narrow and deep in one subject for long periods, then shallow and broad in related disciplines for shorter periods is a perfect blend.
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