In the movie City Slickers, Curly says “One thing, just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.” When Mitch asks “What’s the one thing?” Curly answers “That’s what you gotta figure out.”
Well Curly, I beg to differ. I have discovered my one true thing and the one thing is “many things”. In her book, “Refuse to Choose”, Barbara Scherr coins the term “scanners” as people whose interests hop around. She classifies different types of scanners based on factors like the time they stick with something and the number of interests they hold at one time.
“But you keep telling us not to multitask!” There’s a time element to consider. Multitasking means that you are doing tasks simultaneously while scanning involves multiple tasks and interests over a period of time, but not simultaneously.
Multitasking: Working on multiple tasks simultaneously. For example, sitting on a conference call and reading your email. Each task is diluted.
Scanning: Focus changes periodically on a cycle that is right for the person doing it. It could be hours or it could be months.
For me, I get completely immersed in something for the time I’m interested in it. My husband says I only have an on/off switch, no dimmer. When I decided to be vegan, I was the veganey-ist person you ever met, I had cookbooks, I watched vegan TV shows, I was on vegan discussion boards, I read studies on the health effects. Then one day I decided to start eating meat again. Same with swimming. And Pilates. And Improv. And Politics. And Public Speaking.
So what’s wrong with that? Barbara Scherr says nothing is wrong with it. Some people like the steep learning curve and others like mastery. I like the rush of learning something new. Once I gain proficiency, I move on. She says there’s a skill there, but the skill is not necessarily the skill you think it is, the skill you may be building is curiosity and the ability to learn quickly. Another friend of mine suggests that I'm building a unique set of capabilities, and we just don't yet know how the dots connect.
Leonardo DaVinci. Benjamin Franklin. Richard Feynman. Steve Jobs. All Scanners. The beauty of these scanners was that they cross-pollinated ideas from the different disciplines they explored. Feynman was a physicist who often wandered into the Biology labs and introduced Physics ideas into Biology and brought Biology concepts back to the Physics lab. Steve Jobs famously wandered into an art class about font design, and years later ended creating with the first word processing program to allow multiple fonts. DaVinci wrote a letter selling himself as a civil engineer, ending the letter almost as an afterthought “I can also draw.”
The industrial revolution has promoted specialization. It wasn’t always like this. People used to value well-roundedness. And it’s only getting worse. A friend in the Organizational Development (OD) space explained to me that what used to be OD has now split into Org Design, Change Management, Culture Consulting, and more. OD became specialized because companies wanted quick fixes and a la carte menus. But when you fractured a discipline, the holistic view is lost. And that’s exactly what my OD friend says is happening.
If you are a ‘scanner’. Keep doing that. It’s ok. As Steve Jobs says, “the dots will connect.” Look for ways that you can use your propensity to learn quickly. Writers, Consultant and Motivational speakers are the suggestions from Barbara Scherr’s book.
If you know a ‘scanner’. Love them for who they are. They aren’t going to be happy with one thing.
And remember, there’s no rule that says you need to pick one thing.
What do you think? Let us know!