Paul Graham on how to become an expert in changing the world:
The winds of change originate in the unconscious minds of domain experts. If you’re sufficiently expert in a field, any weird idea or apparently irrelevant question that occurs to you is ipso facto worth exploring.
David Brooks on Thought Leaders:
The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler. Each year, he gets to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, where successful people gather to express compassion for those not invited. Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.
The difference between changing the world and being a thought leader has something to do with being an expert in a specific field. In most fields, I think this probably also includes applying this expertise to real world problems in some form or another.
Between the ages of 20 and 26, I undertook a lot activism without possessing any expertise. The pinnacle of this was when, in law school, I helped lead a team that sued the state of Connecticut for underfunding public schools. It never occurred to me that Connecticut was amongst the highest education spenders in the nation, and that while there were inequities in the funding formula, funding itself was not the prime culprit for poor academic performance across the state.
Between the ages of 27 and 34, I worked in education reform New Orleans. In doing this work, I gained some level of expertise in urban education.
Now, as a consultant, I find myself in an in-between world. On one hand, I hope to use any expertise I possess to help other cities. On the other hand, I’m cognizant that any expertise I possess could expire in short order.
To avoid declining expertise, I try to do the following: (1) read very widely (2) blog (3) talk incessantly with up and coming content experts (4) take on work in areas that develop new skills.
Despite these efforts, I remain worried about losing expertise and declining into the world of the Thought Leader.