Earlier this morning, I was thinking how much easier (yes, easier) life was in the 11th century. Essentially, if someone was irritating you, you rode out (or walked out, depending on your level of income) armed with as many instruments of mayhem as you could take with you, and resolved the issue. I am not a particularly violent person, but sometimes, when modern life gets political, whiny and just plain moronic, I do envy those inhabitants of simpler times (although the lack of bidets is always “problematic”, as the PC crowd likes to say) when society wasn’t as apt to frown upon occasional major bloodshed in the course of friendly arguments.
And now, it seems that this may be linked to the fact that I am easily distracted. Hmm…
Research into Attention Deficit Disorder has led to any number of avenues, most of them focused on getting hyperactive children to be able to focus and learn at the same rate as other kids (drugs, mainly). While your attitude towards this might vary, there is little question that the drugs make these children nice little zombies who can actually stay awake through boring history classes without distracting those around them who are more teachable and focused.
However, another current believes that there is little wrong with these children psychologically, but that their minds have a preponderance of hunter-type characteristics – a genetic remnant of less civilized past. As you can imagine, most elementary schools on the planet are not equipped to train children to hunt mammoths, something in which this kind of child would probably excel as they are generally better at improvisation and real-time problem-solving than they are at concentrating on something they don’t need at the moment. They aren’t necessarily bad students, but they are the type which will toss things together at the last moment. In modern life, they tend to be the brilliant thinkers who put the great ideas out there and let others take care of the details.
On the other hand, ”normal” children are those in which the ”farmer” brain type is dominant: meticulous, detail-oriented, planners. They are generally a teacher’s dream, and are the ones who can turn the great ideas into working systems, which they then enjoy refining and refining some more. They are the ones who will give us a working highway system, but also the ones that give us 65 mile-per-hour speed limits because their nature is to plough the furrow again and again, as far as they can. Most overdone social trends (see helmets on ski slopes) have to do with farmers going a little too far into the details, into places where people outside the extremely specialized clique can no longer communicate effectively with them. Most people have a little of both, with one side predominating, while some – very few – are able to balance both sides, and can be Farming Hunters or Hunting Farmers.
Of course, all of this is extremely relevant to the business world, on two fronts: marketing and recruiting. Marketing because it is important to remember that you can’t sell things to farmers the way you would to hunters, and recruiting because, for technical reasons I won’t go into here, it is important to have a good balance of both personality types on your sales force (and I assume you would want your accounting department to be composed exclusively of farmers). Internet entrepreneurs tend to be hunters (which explains why they break the mold, and also why their long-range planning is sometimes… questionable).
So how does all of the above relate to this blog?
Simple. Polymaths seem to be Hunter-type personalities, while specialists, those men and women who are completely absorbed in one topic, seem to be farmers (remember that ADD research?), which is what makes academia so frustrating for so many. The plodding, bureaucratic specialist is prevalent – and that means that the maverick needs to either learn to accept that or to ply his trade elsewhere. That may be the reason that the less detail oriented personality types tend to find their way into business or the military as opposed to academia. Hell, even in these fields, detail orientation is often praised, while big-picture thinking is suppressed.
Which begs the question: How much are we losing because of this? Is over-specialization driving us to a dead end? We at Classically Educated think so – which is why these posts are so eclectic… But, ask around, you’ll find that most people disagree with us!