I was interested in this book because of its connection to Kaizen, which I have had some informal interaction with in the past, working for one of the original Western Kaizen authors and advocates (but that's a whole different post for another day). Kaizen, in a nutshell, is an Eastern philosophy that says, basically, that great changes are accomplished in small steps. If you want to make a great improvement overall, it's the little things you change that will get you there. This resonates with me because big change? I don't embrace big change. The prospect of big change makes me pull the covers up over my head. But baby steps? I can handle that.
I have wholeheartedly embraced the notion of being a Renaissance woman my entire life. (That's code for being slightly ADD and flitting from one hobby or interest to the next.) My problem is, as soon as I get inspired by a pursuit (knitting, for example), I tend to want to specialize in it, be the best at it, devote my life to it and join the craft fair circuit, etc. ... thus going from gaining a general knowledge about something and turning it into a specialization. (Side Note: but then the slight ADD tendencies kick in and I abandon the pursuit for the next shiny object that catches my eye.)
Ingrid classifies people as generalists or specialists. Most of us are, by necessity, specialists in our careers. We learn to do something, then we hone the skill so that we do it well, because making a living may depend on being the best at what we do. Her contention is that if we can "cross train our brains" to be more of a generalist, by knowing a little something about a lot of things, as opposed to knowing "everything" about one thing, we'll have a more vigorous mind, a greater ability to be productive and be the definition of a "well rounded" individual.
Unfortunately, our society really wants us to specialize. My 10-year-old daughter, for example, is involved in the following: violin, concert band, soccer, basketball, volleyball, choir and occasionally drama. I've been told that she's getting "too old" for all of these things and if I want her to be "really good" at anything, she needs to focus on just one pursuit, just one sport. I think this is sad (but true in our society) and I hope that I can encourage her to continue being a Renaissance kid for at least a few more years.
I am amazed at the amount of research the author did in writing this book. She truly practices what she preaches and has an amazingly vast base of knowledge. I would imagine that she is the type of person who can speak to any issue that you throw out at her and would be a lot of fun to grab a drink with and talk about everything from European politics to shoe shopping.
When I received "The Vigorous Mind" as my assigned book, I won't lie. I was a little bit disappointed. Self help? I wanted a murder mystery! But I'm happy to say that I am well rounded enough to appreciate having a little self help tossed into my predominantly fiction reading list and I'm truly glad this book came my way. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking to expand their horizons or shake up their current routine.
Available at Barnes & Noble.