Digging deep

I was driving with my wife down a narrow mountain road in British Columbia. We were passing through a mountain range full of old silver mines back from the silver rush of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These old mines got me thinking.

Say you’re digging for silver. You start at one spot that seems promising and keep digging and digging with singleminded focus. You go deeper and deeper, determined, optimistic, yet you don’t find anything.

Your friend on the next hill over is taking a completely different approach. Every day he finds a new spot and digs there until sundown. The next day, he starts digging at a new spot. He only ever digs 8 or 10 feet deep, but he digs in a lot of places.

Which one is going to strike gold (or in this case, silver)?

The real answer is – neither. Silver typically appears at about 50 feet (totally made-up number) so your friend’s micro-mines are coming up empty. But silver also comes in randomly distributed patches in the ground. So your single deep hole is unlikely to yield anything either.

There’s a third way. This reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a guy I served in the military with. I was 19 years old and still had a black-or-white outlook on life. “You can either study one subject in depth, or many subjects superficially,” I said.

“You’re wrong,” he replied. He was a bit older and a tad wiser. “You can study a decent number of subjects to a significant depth.” He later proved his point by successfully pursuing three different Masters degrees – at the same time.

Digging deeply, but not too deeply, in multiple places, but not too many, seems to be the answer. I suspect it holds true for financial investment, for finding the right market for your product and for choosing topics to build a Twitter audience around.

This could even be applied as an argument to having multiple children or engaging in polyamory.

But I might be pushing the metaphor.

Follow me @finereli where I write about emotional intelligence and mental health.