His recommended read explores how more people should be trying to gain multidisciplinary experience.
Growing up, SnapScan CFO Derick Truscott always considered himself more of a generalist than a specialist. “While I was never able to be the very best in a specific field or discipline, I always felt that there had to be some unique value to being competent in a number of things as opposed to being an expert in just one thing,” he says.
It is therefore no surprise that Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein sparked Derick’s interest.
In his book, David Epstein examines the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, investors, forecasters and scientists. He discovers that in most fields, especially those that are complex and unpredictable, generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel.
David reveals that the most effective leaders are those who can work across different domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.
Different environments need different leaders
The part that resonated with Derick the most was breaking down the key differences between “kind” environments and “wicked” environments. “Specialists flourish in ‘kind’ environments that have very clear rules of engagement and objectives to determine what winning is,” he says.
He referred to sport as an example of this kind of environment, where the rules of the game are very well defined and you are made aware of what it takes to win the game early on. “Specialists are then able to flourish through practice and repetition and can follow the ‘10,000 hours to master a skill’ with a high chance of success,” he says.
However, the book shows that the world tends to not be a “kind” environment, and that this approach is unlikely to guarantee success when rules are more fluid and objectives aren’t as clear. “In this instance, breadth of experience is able to trump depth. So exposing yourself to different disciplines and fields enables you to see solutions to problems that hyper-specialised individuals might miss,” Derick says.
He emphasises that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be good at what you do or that you can afford to get away with shallow learning, but rather: “Once you’ve hit the point of marginal gains in a specific field or discipline, investing energy in widening your knowledge might yield better results than deepening it further.”
This approach was evidenced when Derick joined SnapScan. Initially, most of his time was spent doing narrow financial processing and management work. However, having had previous experience from engaging with the startup industry in areas unrelated to pure finance, he was quickly able to add value to his financial management duties by adjusting his approach with these lessons in mind.
“Over the years, I’ve been intentional in exposing myself to different areas in the business, in tech, and even comparing ‘traditional’ business to the sometimes disconnected from reality startup business world,” he explains. “This has helped me tremendously to strive to be an engaged CFO that has a deep understanding of each area of the business, which ultimately makes problem-solving, budgeting, financial monitoring and business decision-making that much easier and effective.”
Derick says his biggest learning from the book was understanding that while financial reporting is seen as black and white, business is a kaleidoscope with ever-moving goal posts. “The more context and breadth of experience I develop, the easier it becomes to navigate the interplay of regulation, stakeholder interests and business objectives.”
He adds that while he is still young and learning, he has found this approach to be helpful for the phase he is currently in. “I believe it will help a lot of finance leaders that are often required to wear multiple hats in their roles, especially in the SME sector.”