Unique Knowledge Set

Mark Zuckerberg’s studies in college, prior to Facebook, included Computer Science and Psychology. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, similarly studied Computer Science and Symbolic Systems (a hybrid computer science and psychology program at Stanford that emphasizes cognitive science). Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, also studied Symbolic Systems and Cognitive Science.

Computer science degrees and programming skills alone might get you a job at Facebook, Yahoo, or LinkedIn, but that’s not enough to create Facebook, Yahoo, or LinkedIn. (No amount of degrees will allow you to perform such a feat.) These founders and CEOs didn’t just study computer science, they branched out into psychology-related studies that now directly apply to how their businesses capture the eyes and ears of consumers. In looking at these tech moguls we discover a principle: having a unique set of knowledge (combinations of different fields and interests) puts you in a position to do innovative things later on.

Steve Jobs is a great example of this. He attended Reed College for a short period of time and at one point took a class on calligraphy. He wasn’t studying to become an illustrator or lettering artist, yet Jobs still decided to take the course and enjoyed every minute of it.

Years later, while developing the original 1984 Macintosh, Steve Jobs was able to connect the dots between all of the computer related knowledge he had and that single calligraphy course, and introduced the first computer that could display different fonts in that 1984 machine. It’s not that Steve knew that the calligraphy course would be important later on, but that he was willing to take the class and develop a unique set of knowledge that allowed him to innovate in a special way after the fact.

The institution will not graduate with you with a unique knowledge set on its own: you must develop it by reading, learning, being mentored, and exposing yourself to all sorts of new and exciting information. Once you get past the standard fare of education (reading, writing, basic sciences, and history), expand your reach into every other relevant subject that you can get your hands on and learn to apply it to what you’re doing.

Just-in-case learning is not always wrong when you view it in this light. The just-in-case learning that you do in school is just wrong due to the fact that everyone else is learning the exact same material; just in case. When you learn for your own purposes, learn everything you can just in case it comes in handy later; just get out of the comfort zone of learning what everyone else already knows and begin to look for the knowledge that few people are trying to get.

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” - Haruki Murakami