General skills not only help you with a narrow problem but can be used repeatedly to solve other problems.
But building general skills can be challenging because it is built from many specific ones. If you're prepared to do the work, you can find better ways to learn that can make breadth possible.
Earlier theories of the mind - like the formal discipline theory - assumed that things like reason, language and attention were like muscles and that any activity strengthened them. It led to views that learning Latin and geometry was essential even though few students would use these skills.
Edward Thorndike disproved this theory in 1901. He formed a new theory known as the identical elements theory, which suggested that two problems must share common elements for one skill to apply to another.
Thorndike's replacement theory was not correct. He was wrong in thinking that only the superficial elements of a task needed to match.
An idea, as an abstract concept, can influence your thinking more on a broader range of problems than only memorising some steps in a procedure.
Learning ideas are useful to a point. To make a general idea useful, some key obstacles need to be overcome:
Ideas help, but it is just the start. Easy ideas in a field may be the only visible tip of deeper knowledge.
People that develop expertise in multiple areas are able to solve a wide range of problems.
The key is to gain broadly valuable skills:
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