Minimum Viable Depth
Breadth vs depth is too simple.
Today we’re taking a closer look at the much-debated argument of breadth vs. depth and why it might be missing the point altogether. I hope the ideas below help spark some reflection, and as always, thanks for reading!
Minimum Viable Depth
The length of your education is less important than its breadth, and the length of your life is less important than its depth.
Martin Luther King Jr.
The Platte river in Nebraska is literally a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s often used as a metaphor to describe the phenomenon of spreading ourselves too thin across too many pursuits.
The arguments for singular focus and depth ring true in many areas of life, and the benefits of going deep on one pursuit are compelling. To be great at anything worthwhile, whether it’s family, fitness, work, sport, etc., requires a huge commitment of time and energy. The more pursuits we layer on top of one another, the less time and energy we have to allocate to each individual pursuit.
It’s a simple math problem, but in the messiness of the real world, things become more complicated. In his bestselling book Range, David Epstein argues that spreading our efforts across multiple pursuits can actually help us achieve higher levels of performance in any field because of intangible benefits and crossover from one discipline to another.
His main evidence is elite athletes, who overwhelmingly train across multiple sports and disciplines instead of dedicating all their time to one sport. The different strategies and techniques they learn help them perform better in every sport
This is also helpful in multi-disciplinary or diverse teams. The unique ideas and philosophies from disparate disciplines and cultures mash together to become better than the sum of their parts.
With clear benefits to both depth and breadth of pursuits, the question becomes not which is the better strategy but how to balance the two.
At their extremes, both depth and breadth are unproductive. Beginning on the breadth side of the spectrum, there are continued benefits of going deeper and deeper into any given pursuit, but at a certain point, the benefits of going deeper begin to taper off.
At a certain point, depth becomes counterproductive. The better we get, the harder it is to make progress.
We can refer to that tipping point as the minimum viable depth (MVD). If we don’t get to this point, we’ll never see meaningful improvement or benefit, but most of the work we do going deeper into a pursuit after this point isn’t worth the trouble.
Ideally, we can invest our energy into multiple pursuits in a way that lets us reach minimum viable depth in all of them without overloading ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy to go all in on our work, our family, or our health and waste our energy investing in something past the point of MVD. It’s just as easy to say yes to everything and bounce around between so many pursuits that we can never truly make progress in anything.
If we can carefully allocate our time to reach the point of minimum viable depth in the areas of life that are most important to us, we can make the best use of our time and slowly but surely become a bit better each day.
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Do you lean on the side of depth or breadth?
What pursuits or activities in your life need to be cut out or further invested in?
In a perfect world, what are the pursuits that make up your ideal life and what does MVD look like in each pursuit?
A classic book detailing the benefits of multiple pursuits.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.