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  • Writer's pictureRachael Annabelle

2+2=5; Be a Polymath, because we are more than the sum of our parts

Updated: May 18, 2020

I’ve been inhaling a good number of books and articles on mental models and accelerated intelligence lately, and here are two that really stuck out to me. I decided to do a TLDR of both to help me internalize them better.

The first one was about how being a polymath (someone who has knowledge across various fields (eg. Elon Musk)) increases your chance of success. You can find the article here:


The article is essentially about people with a varied set of interests that they actively pursue and acquire knowledge, which then leads to the innovation of new subjects and ideas over time. This doesn't require the complete mastery of any of the particular skill, although, you do have to be relatively competent at it. Some of the perks of being a polymath they mentioned included future-proofing your career, solving more complex problems and standing out while competing in this global economy.

The article shares how if you want something extraordinary in life, you have two paths: #1. Become the best at one specific thing. #2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

However, we have to understand that in the world we live in today, information is easily accessible and it is becoming easier to become competent in a new skill. Not only is the quality of knowledge within domains improving exponentially, but there is an abundance of free/affordable content online.

Bottom line: Make yourself anti-fragile

The other article was centered around Warren Buffet’s secret behind staying focused - knowing when to say “no”. Article linked here.


Buffet emphasizes on the 80/20 rule, and prides himself on being a ruthless prioritized, and spends most of his time reading and thinking. The article mentioned that free time is not a default, but rather the result of strategy. Here’s a summary of his top strategies to create free time:

  1. Remove the unnecessary from your to-do list - List of your top 25 goals. Circle the top 5 and cancel the bottom 20 out (keep in mind, 80/20.)

  2. Only work with people you could see yourself working with forever - those you trust and know can deliver results.

  3. Less is more, keep things simple to ease your workflow. It is easy for things to become complex as you scale in both your professional and personal life, and it takes skill to keep it minimal.

  4. Focus on quality > quantity

  5. Invest in knowledge that has a long term ROI. “The things you do learn and invest in should be knowledge that is cumulative, so that the knowledge builds on itself. So instead of learning something that might become obsolete tomorrow, like some particular type of software [that no one even uses two years later], choose things that will make you smarter in 10 or 20 years. That lesson is something I use all the time now.” This is similar to Bezo's philosophy that it is always"Day One" , and Sam Altman's belief that long term thinking is "one of the few arbitrage opportunities left in the market".

  6. Avoid the technology bandwagon (To proactively remove potential distractions from your environment, and have the confidence that your decision trumps what is popular)

Bottom Line: Don't bite of what you can chew - prioritize & focus, cut the noise.

Both articles purport similar yet different routes to success - how do you be a polymath but only focus on the top 20% of your list?

Here’s my take:

At the end of the day, I still believe that 2+2=5; that we are more than the sum of our parts, so we can definitely consider following the route of a polymath. However, you have to be knowledgeable enough to earn the respect of people so that they will listen to the ideas and thoughts that you speak of - or others would quickly label you as a jack of all trades, master of none. We also need to think about how we go about achieving that, and perhaps that is where we can apply Buffett’s 80/20 focus rule, and be selective in terms of what and how much you plan to invest in that field. Since, there really is a very fine line between being a polymath, and a distracted person.


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