Chapter 4The Cult of Specialisation

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. In the stylish yet frantic environs of the Canary Wharf building in London, I bumped into Zack, a contemporary from my high school over a decade earlier. He was on the descending escalator, impeccably dressed, his shoulders slumped, eyes drooping with exhaustion, one hand held by his trouser pocket and the other half-clenching his backpack. As soon as I recognised him from the floor below, I decided to remain at the foot of his escalator intending to surprise him. I had time for a flashback.

Every school has a Zack or two. The type that shines in every subject of the curriculum, produces mind-blowing artwork, plays various musical instruments with ease, takes the lead roles in the school plays and captains more than one of the sports teams. Zack was the archetypical schoolboy all-rounder everyone had high hopes for. Less than a decade on, back at the bottom of the escalator in the City, Zack tells me of his life since schoolboy stardom.

He had read economics at a good university, followed by a master's degree in accounting and finance, after which he completed a professional financial qualification and joined an investment bank in the City to become a derivatives researcher focusing on the luxury goods market. It wasn’t quite clear whether he was embarrassed or proud of working sixteen hour days. It all seemed rather impressive; but one thing struck me from our conversation. Zack had compromised ...

Get The Polymath now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.