Whenever someone tells you that things have to be either one way or another, it’s best to question that assumption.  Although we naturally gravitate to black and white thinking, drawing comfort from its certainty, more often than not things aren’t “either or” — there is usually an option that incorporates both ways simultaneously… it’s one way “and” another.

I have a weakness for books.  Generally I buy more than I can read in the time I have available.  My bookshelves and nightstand are filled with volumes graced with my good intentions of being read at some point during this life.  I might meet that goal if I stop buying books for about the next 10 years.  That’s not going to happen.

Now when I start a new book, I have to consider this: am I going to read it thoroughly or skim it?  Am I going to stay with the book and go deep with its content versus am I going to get the gist of it and then move on rapidly to another book?  Going deep allows me to better comprehend the author’s message.  Skimming many books allows me to cast a wide net around a lot of content even if the detail and nuances remain untouched.  Each way has its value.

I’ve heard prosperity author and speaker Bob Proctor several times.  Every time I’ve heard him speak he extols the virtues of going deep with a book.  He says that he can keep a volume open on his desk to the same page for weeks at a time reading and rereading the same passage until he embodies its deep meaning.  Although I’ve never done this, I can attest to the value of reading slowly and digesting mentally the words, rereading and contemplating key passages that speak to me — and in some cases allowing a period of time to pass and then rereading the book with fresh eyes and new perspective.  Going deep has great value.

Yet the more time I spend going deep with one book or subject the less time I spend being well informed on a wide variety of subjects.  I’m stuck with the choice of either having depth of knowledge or breadth of knowledge.  A recent book by Nicholas Carr entitled “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” makes the case that the recent trend towards googling information and following hyperlinks is training us to continuously cast a wide net at the expense of going deep.  Well, to be honest, I think it makes this case — I haven’t had time to read the book but I did skim a couple reviews and clicked on the “look inside” button on the Amazon book listing!

In any case, I think we can all agree that the Internet is a great tool for allowing us to quickly scan a vast quantity of information.  My friends and I have discussed how seductive Internet surfing can be, quickly losing hours of time as we move from site to site.  Most of us cast a wide Internet, rarely spending the time to go deep.

So is this an “either or”?  How can we make this an “and”?

It reminds me of many of the hiring decisions that I made as a government executive for many years.  Whenever I filled a position, I considered the knowledge and skills needed in the candidate.  In some cases, I needed a specialist — someone with very detailed specific skills.  That is, they needed to have gone “deep” in an area with the development of their expertise.  In other cases, I needed more of a generalist — someone who had good skills in a wide number of areas.  That is, they needed to have “cast a wide net” in the development of their expertise.

In most cases, unless I really needed someone immediately with specific experience, I would advertise a job in a way that cast a wide net to get the best possible candidate available at that time.  In some cases, that would be a generalist.  In other cases, that would be a specialist.  Over time, it would even out and our team would be a healthy mixture of generalists and specialists leading to a high performing unit.  We were able to cast a wide net and go deep.

The reality is the same with my reading and comprehending.  There are currently several subjects on which I am reading and studying in great depth.  And, at the same time, I continued to scan the Internet and skim books that add to my breadth of knowledge.  You can have it both ways.

One of the hallmarks of higher-level thinking according to evolutionary models such as Spiral Dynamics or Integral Theory is that we expand our way of looking at things so that we can hold simultaneously in our awareness what appears at first blush to be totally opposite viewpoints.  We can balance these opposing ideas in our mind and be okay with it.

So where in your life do you tell yourself or you are being told that it must be one way or another?  Where have you been convinced that things are purely black and white and that you must choose one?  Question that assumption.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!