A phrase I would hear often enough growing up was “Jack of all trades, Prince of nothing” or “Master of None.” It is meant to encourage people to focus on and gain deep expertise in certain fewer things rather than dabbling on several things on a shallow level.
I was always the opposite, always open to trying out new things, be it sports, academic interests, or extracurricular activities. A summer of swimming, a year of gymnastics, short courses on programming, speed reading, stage and film acting, the languages of business, and international arbitration, are all a few of the multitude of things that make me a ‘prince of nothing.’
Many would say that quite a few of those endeavors are now futile skills in my profession as a lawyer. I partially agree, but perhaps surprisingly, it is in fact the acting workshops that best contributed to my practice, as it gave me confidence to handle speaking in front of a crowd. It is a veritable fact that what one learns through various experiences can contribute to one’s overall development, regardless of how outlandishly illogical the connection may be.
By an exceptional twist of fate, many of today’s greatest game-changers are, in fact, “jacks of all trades,” or as contemporarily described, are “expert-generalists,” a term coined by Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Company.
Expert-generalists are people who study broadly in varied fields, with a profound understanding and comprehension that allows them to connect principles in those fields as they could apply in their core expertise. Expert-generalists have a curiosity that enables them to amass proficiency in many different disciplines and call
upon this mass of knowledge in bridging gaps between those disciplines.
For instance, Nobel laureate for Physics Richard Feynman enjoyed a deeply rooted interest in literature and art so that peers described him as having artistic insights on physics.
For me, the exemplar for the modern expert-generalist is Elon Musk, who is among the wealthiest and most powerful people on the planet. After founding X.com, which later became PayPal, he sold his equity and founded or invested in companies that are as diverse as they come. Today, he is into space exploration with SpaceX, is CEO and product architect of Tesla, and is exploring the potentiality of friendly artificial intelligence and implanting computers in the brain with OpenAI and Neuralink, respectively.
Of course, one could argue that these expert-generalists are of a breed on their own, sui generis, in legal parlance. After all, they are multitalented individuals with the mental acuity to learn and understand principles of various disciplines.
Education has played a divergent impact on many expert-generalists. Some embraced it, while others couldn’t be bothered to finish their degrees. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who was studying pre-law, mixed with math and computer science courses in Harvard, dropped out after two years. Mark Zuckerberg was studying psychology and computer science also at Harvard, and left to focus on a website that would become Facebook. Apple’s legendary founder Steve Jobs started studying in Reed College and likewise dropped out.
On the other hand, Musk graduated with a double degree in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Investment guru Charles Munger, vice chair of investment behemoth Berkshire Hathaway, started a math degree, dropped out to join the Army, studied meteorology from CalTech, and later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law.
So how can we, mere mortals, emulate these titans? We may not have the brainpower or even the patience that would allow us to comprehend mathematics, economics, and physics, much less the capacity to connect principles of those fields. While we cannot all be expert-generalists, we certainly can learn from these incredible people. Their habits, their hunger for experiences and education and their drive for success, are equally as important as the talents God has given them.
That brings me to the concept of a dual degree meant to provide a wider scope of study that will complement each other upon graduation. I am a proud product of one such program, where I took my Juris Doctor and MBA as a joint degree. As a lawyer, one can survive purely with the practice, but with the wisdom and skills acquired in business school, I have an appreciation of management, leadership, finance, and accounting, which all became necessary in my career.
Relatively new in the country, dual degrees are gaining popularity, and are already established in the region and around the world. JD-MBA courses are incredibly popular in the US, along with Masters in Education, Public Health, Journalism, and Environment Studies combined with the MBA. In Singapore, one course I would have wanted to pursue was a Masters in Public Policy-Masters of Law tandem. Another increasingly popular course is the MD-MBA course, for doctors who want to know the business side of their practice.
Of course, there are always pros and cons to double degrees. An advantage is a reduced period of study as opposed to taking the two courses separately, however, these degrees often carry higher costs and heavier workloads per term.
These also require a level of commitment and a changing of one’s hat, so to speak. In my experience, the course took five years, and was a challenging but rewarding experience altogether. For instance, law school is typically socratic in the method of instruction, where individual recitation is a daily, terrifying occurrence. Business school is often taught through case methods, where collaboration is necessary, and there are rarely wrong answers.
All in all, the experiences most definitely added significant value to my career, and for those who would be interested in pursuing a double degree, I would advise them to go for it, and approach the experience with a passion and hunger that the expert-generalists have displayed in their daily lives.
The author is founder, CEO and counselor for Compliance, Trade & Investment, and Government Relations & Public Policy at Caucus, Inc. He obtained his MBA from De La Salle University, Juris Doctor from Far Eastern University, and LLM in International Commercial Law from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. He was also a Chevening UK Government scholar, a Confucius Institute scholar, and an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. He teaches at the College of Law of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and at Miriam College. The author may be emailed at email@example.com
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