Intellectual Overreach


When you’re very good at something, or maybe when you’ve done very well at climbing a ladder in one sphere and you become what is considered an “expert” if you’re the leader of an organization or part of your organization you plainly have a great deal of competence and you’ve worked very hard and so on; I think one mistake that leaders very often make, especially in business is assuming that because I am an expert or supremely accomplished in this one relatively narrow realm that therefore I’ll also be very, very good at another realm that’s over here.

That is dangerous – Just look at the number of big firms in America and in Canadian business history that have really successfully branched out. It’s remarkable how very few do that. There’s some that are very interesting models: GE in the States, Tata in India. GE now more interestingly is moving in the other direction where they’re coming back to their core, but there are some firms like those that begin with one or two things then expanded so GE began with huge kinds of physical manufacturing, big time stuff and then moved into real estate, finance and so on.

That is really, really hard to do – You see as the world changes because of circumstances – financial circumstances, technology – you see a lot of firms and organizations say , “Well we’ve been doing this for a while and now we’re also going to be doing this because that’s where the gold is.” It’s much harder than people think so I think thinking smarter about how to be good at more things is vital and just because I happen to be good at one or two things does not mean that I’m going to be good at something that might seem a little bit related to me and isn’t. I think that is a mistake that leaders often make that intellectual overreach. 

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