The human mind is, undoubtedly, a complex system, and when it comes to complex systems the sequence matters. A prime example: specialists and generalists.

Imagine that each person is a blank slate before entering the education system, and that upon exiting it they can either be a specialist or a generalist. Also imagine that people can switch their focus—change to narrow or broad later on in their life. Now, a question:

Can a specialist become a generalist as easily as a generalist can become a specialist?

No. The sequence matters. A generalist can specialise more easily than a specialist can generalise. The reason is that it’s harder to unlearn than to learn. A specialist adopts one framework, a singular way of seeing the world. The generalist adopts many lenses, and thus finds it easier to pick others up and put them down.

This is, perhaps, the biggest problem with the upper end of traditional education—we train specialists then make general demands of them. Really, it should be the reverse. Zack Kanter brought to my attention a speculation of Charlie Munger:

“…Charlie, Sr. is saying that he’d like to create a true liberal arts college in which students have no major and few elective courses. They would have a set curriculum in which they learn enough about math, sciences, economics, history, and so on, to be truly well-educated for today’s world. No specialisation would be allowed until graduate school. The problem with many of today’s young people, Munger argues to his unconvinced offspring, is that they specialise too early and never learn some subjects they can’t live well without. They don’t know enough about the world.”

That, to me, sounds like a good educational institution.