To understand the answer to the question, we need to first understand what do we mean by "expert generalsit". An expert generalist studies widely in many different fields, understand deeper principles that connect those fields, and then apply the principles to their core specialty. Rather than being a specialist and focusing only on one specific expertise, an expert-generalist studies widely in many different topics. This helps the expert-generalist be a broad thinker who can see a problem holistically and recognize patterns that would otherwise be undetectable. Elon Musk is a perfect example of an expert generalist. Because of this quality/trait, he could build four multibillion companies by his mid-40s — in four different fields (software, energy, transportation, and aerospace).
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon MuskSo what does Elon do to become an expert generalist? Elon was raised by books. He loved them. According to CNBC, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica at nine years old and often read science fiction novels for several hours a day. At first, Elon’s reading spanned science fiction, philosophy, religion, programming, and biographies of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. As he got older, his reading and career interests spread to physics, engineering, product design, business, technology, and energy. Almost everything you learn can be applied to something else. Read about things that inspire you. Find books that make you think in entirely different ways and motivate you to fulfill your potential. Be curious and keep learning. Many people believe that learning is an incredibly difficult process. However, it doesn't have to be complicated. Once you start with the basic principles of anything, it’s much easier to learn about a topic and build your tree of knowledge. According to Elon, “It is important to view knowledge as a sort of semantic tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” So how do we apply this in our day-to-day life? When we’re jumping into a new field, we shouldn’t just take one approach or best practice. We should explore different approaches, deconstruct each one, then compare and contrast them, and start building them from bottom up - aka learning through
First Principles.As we build up a tank full of “first principles” and associate those principles with different fields, we suddenly gain the superpower of being able to go into a new field we’ve never learned before, and quickly make unique contributions.