Don’t Be a Fachidiot

LeonardoWhat would you say is your area of expertise?  Are you an amazing teacher?  An excellent gardener?  A stellar clarinet player? Maybe you are deeply good at several things.

Personally, I’m a pretty good preacher, church whisperer, mediator, teacher and consultant.  Notice how all those things fall into one basic category though: Church World.

I need to get out more:  out of the office, out of the non-profit management section of the book store, out of the sanctuary, out of the meeting room.

I’m working on it.  Possibilities:  I would like to know everything about brain science and perfect coffee-making.  I would like to learn how to make my own donuts.

Robert C. Wolcott of Northwestern University teaches Innovative Leadership and he says that the best 21st Century leaders live in multiple worlds with two or more areas of ‘deep knowledge.’  Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago says that it doesn’t matter what those two areas are, just so they are different:  piano and baseball, orthopedics and pastry-making.  When we have two areas of expertise, they inform each other and we learn how to speak other “languages.” It makes everything more interesting.

At the risk of getting into a political argument (that’s not my intention) I was reading this and learned the German word “fachidiot” which means a person who is brilliant in a narrow field but ignorant in pretty much everything else.  Let’s not be like that.  Innovative people are not fachidiots.

Think about Leonardo Da Vinci – the original Renaissance Man – who had deep knowledge in the fields of portrait painting, human anatomy, engineering, and birds.  He invented musical instruments.  The man was clearly a polymath.

Contemporary examples of people with at least two areas of deep knowledge include Condoleezza Rice (international diplomacy, piano), Matthew Putman (physicist, jazz composer, poet), and Brian May (astrophysicist, guitarist from Queen.)  We can’t be as amazing as those folks, but broadening our horizons transforms more than our own lives.

Our congregations are in dire need of innovators who know how to make changes – not for change’s sake – but in order to become the Church we were created to be in these whirlwind times.  We need to speak multiple cultural languages.

One of the reasons many our congregations are struggling is because we are only informed by Church World.  We have forgotten that we are called out into the glorious world of quantum physics and Moroccan history and bonsai cultivation and Thai cooking and landscape architecture and . . .

It’s okay that we can’t be like Leonardo da Vinci, or even Condi Rice.  But our lives and our communities will be enhanced if we become experts at something that feeds our souls (outside the office.)

Image is a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.  It’s okay that we can’t be like him.

7 responses to “Don’t Be a Fachidiot

  1. I really wish you could come visit our church. We’re letting the HS lead and She’s doing some amazing things with us. I think you’d enjoy.


  2. When I started taking a dance class, what I liked most about it was the challenge of doing something I was bad at. I’m pretty good at everything else I do, in the church world. The discipline of going back to something each week that I am not good at–that taught me something.


  3. The word you are looking for is Neo-generalist.
    My friends Richard Martin and Kenneth Mikklesen are in the beginning stages of writing a book on it.

    Glad you are learning from Ron Burt. Fifteen years ago he began to change my perception of social and organizational structures with his books Structural Holes and Brokerage and Closure. Highly recommended for understanding networks.


  4. I’ve personally found that, when developing skills in a completely different area, I learn concepts which I am able to apply in different areas/different ways. For example, I’m convinced that spending multiple years playing in instrumental ensembles (concert band, marching band, jazz band, British-style brass bands) taught me how to listen to others and understand group dynamics in a unique way.


  5. Do you read Michelle Francl’s blog Quantum Theology? She is a chemistry professor and spiritual writer extraordinare.


  6. Pingback: Brain Science & Leadership | achurchforstarvingartists

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