Deep vs Shallow




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Deep                     -                  Shallow
Professional          -                  Amateur
Diligent                -                   Dilettante
Specific                -                   General
Defined                -                   Undefined
Narrow                 -                   Wide
Mono                    -                   Poly
Tied                       -                   Untied
Closed                   -                   Open
Perfect                   -                   Flawed
Solid                     -                   Liquid
Apollo                   -                   Hermes


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We summarize these two 'zones' of characteristic as the diligent and the dilettante.

Diligence refers to the focused, assiduous character of the entrepreneur, driven by a single-minded passion and purpose. Dilettante refers to the impulsive, intuitive and opportunistic aspects of entrepreneurship. Importantly, it is the transition from dilettante to diligent which converts innovative ideas into entrepreneurial applications.

It follows that the effective entrepreneur or entrepreneurial enterprise must be at once flighty, amateurish, naive, flitting from idea to project without fixing for too long and drifting on free of commitment; until, when they happen upon and recognize something of particular interest, they become attentive, assiduous and persevering.

The contrast between breadth of references and depth of attention recalls Edward De Bono's distinction between 'lateral' and 'vertical' thinking, and the contrast between 'divergent' and convergent' creative processes [...] Hence, the diligent-dilettante dichotomy is rooted in creativity theory.


Arthur Koestler emphasized that creativity requires 'mental cross-fertilisation.' Howard Gruber describes creativity operating across a 'network of enterprises', while Sawyer notes a creative capacity to switch between fields or domains. Through these multiple contacts, creative connections can be made and new ideas emerge. Creative 'field-switching' fits with our description of the 'dilettante' above.

At the same time, creativity theory also emphasizes the importance of domain-specific expertise, a laboriously acquired repertoire of craft, experience and knowledge which allows creative impulses to take root and allows creative people to polish and refine their ideas into a completed form.

[...] The dilettante must also be diligent - and creative connections between fields must be channelled into expertise and knowledge within a designated field.


[...] work within a domain, but also think outside of it.

[...] becoming too diligent or too dilettante [...] can lead to limiting characteristics: turning recognizers into dreamers, developers into tinkerers, and so on.

[Chris Bilton & Stephen Cummings]
Creative Strategy: Reconnecting Business and Innovation, p. 121-23

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The dilettante is adept at taking everything out of context. This can be productive certainly, when the contexts are false. But it is impossible for the dilettante to form new concepts from mere fragments.

[Florian Havemann, as quoted by Karl Heinz Bohrer]
'The Three Cultures' in Observations on "the Spiritual Situation of the Age", p. 149


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To derive sustained pleasure from consumption, diversity is essential. Diversity, on the other hand, is an obstacle to successful self-realization, as it prevents one from getting into the later and more rewarding stages.

[...] the way the loss of opportunities for self-realization plays out is not through a paucity of options but a surfeit of them, all of which we feel capable of pursuing only to a shallow degree before we get frustrated or bored.

[Things that encourage a shallow level of participation may be] a symptom of some larger social refusal to embrace difficulty.

Consumerism [...] keeps us well supplied with stuff and seems to enrich our identities by allowing us to become familiar with a wide range of phenomena -  a process that the internet has accelerated immeasurably [...] But this comes at the expense of developing any sense of mastery of anything, eroding over time the sense that mastery is possible, or worth pursuing.

[...] Novelty trumps sustained focus, whose rewards are not immediately felt and may never come at all [...] if our focus is mistakenly fixed on something ultimately worthless. Rather than taking advantage of that "increasingly marginal utility" that comes with practicing something difficult, our will to dilettantism develops momentum.

[...] Dilettantism is a perfectly rational response to the hyperaccessibility of stuff available to us in the market, all of which imposes on us time constraints where there was once material scarcity. These time constraints become more itchy the more we recognize how much we are missing out on (thanks to ever more invasive marketing efforts, often blended in to the substance of the material we are gathering for self-realization).

We opt instead for “diversity,” and begin setting about to rationalize the preferability of novelty even further, abetted by the underlying message of much our culture of disposability.

Concentration takes on more of the qualities of work—it becomes a disutility rather than an end vis-a-vis the stuff we acquire. If something requires us to concentrate, it costs us more and forces us to sacrifice more of the stuff we might otherwise consume. In other words, consumerism makes the will and ability to concentrate seem a detriment to ourselves.

[Rob Horning]
'The alluring danger of dilettantism'

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In direct opposition to the trend in mainstream culture toward greater specialization, we need to actively promote the generalist - the one who sees connections and makes links across different disciplines. In this regard, one of the most hopeful trends is the increasing respect for more feminine values and ways of thinking.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.189


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The word ‘amateur’ owes its evil reputation to the arts. An artist must be a master or nothing, and must dedicate his life to his art, for the arts, of their very nature, demand perfection.

In scholarship, on the other hand, a man can only be a master in one particular field, namely as a specialist, and in some field he should be a specialist.

But if he is not to forfeit his capacity for taking a general view, or even his respect for general views, he should be an amateur at as many points as possible, privately at any rate, for the increase of his own knowledge and the enrichment of his possible standpoints. 

Otherwise he will remain ignorant in any field lying outside his own specialty, and perhaps, as a man, a barbarian.

But the amateur, because he loves things, may, in the course of his life, finds points at which to dig deep.

[Jacob Burckhardt]
Reflections on History (1868)

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I would say that what makes an artist rather than a dilettante or poseur is the seriousness of commitment to their work, the evolution (or deepening) of their work over time, and the quality of their work relative to accepted standards of originality, formal invention, handling of material, etc.

['bricology']
'Microproperty in Flow World' (comments section), Click Opera


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Related posts:-
The Tyranny of Novelty 
Boxed Off
Joining the dots
In-between 
The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities) 
Rooted in blood and soil 
Familiar Territory

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