Villages, towns, and cities spring up around intersections; the intersections where bridges, rivers, and roads cross paths. I’ve come to believe that all of the most interesting things happen at the intersection of two other fields.
When thinking about your career I love the thought exercise of finding the intersection of interests that you can see yourself obsessing over for a decade or more. Do you love history, hip-hop, and broadway musicals? Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently enjoying enormous critical and commercial success as the creator of Hamilton. But did you know that he’s been working at this unusual intersection for years? Do you love mobile location and urban exploration? Dennis Crowley is the CEO of Foursquare but his first company, started over 10 years ago, was at the same intersection years before the smartphone was invented. Do you love animation and computers? The Pixar team was working at this intersection for decades until the technology caught up to where they could release their feature-length smash box-office hits.
I think that the most successful people have found and pioneered an area at the intersection of two fields that might never have been combined. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, was one of the earliest ways I identified the above maxim. He thinks he’s in the bottom half of illustrators and bottom half of business people on the planet. But business cartoonists? He’s the best in the world.
I think about my own life - The Wisdom of Crowds changed my world. I’ve been obsessed with collective intelligence ever since. I got approval from my dean at Northwestern to pursue this as my senior thesis. I even got a chance to tell this to the author, James Surowiecki, when he checked into a flight right before me and we were trapped in the jetway while the plane boarded. I’ve also been obsessed with the music industry for years as an artist, working at a label, and leading the student group in booking $300k+ worth of shows a year in school. It’s no accident that Next Big Sound is a company that exists at the intersection of collective intelligence and the music industry.
“Do what you love.” “Follow your passion.” We’ve all heard this trite career advice. Like all cliches there is truth at the core but I think focusing on intersections might be a more concrete way to find what unique combination of skills, obsession, and excitement you can channel to make your mark the world.