The Zulu Principle


There was an interesting question posted in response to last week’s post – Practising Kaizen. A good friend asked “how can one avoid falling into the trap of becoming ‘Jack/Jackie of all trades, master of none?’ She is keen not to fall into the trap of being a ‘Jackie of all trades’ while growing in the Learning Zone. If you have not yet read last week’s post then you will need to read it to have a better context for this post. The only way to avoid the trap of becoming a Jack/Jackie of all trades is focus.

Jim Slater’s Zulu Principle best illustrates how the power of focus can lead to mastery and/or expertise in any given niche, topic, domain or field. This is the title of his financial investment book based on an insight he had as a result of his wife reading a four page Reader’s Digest article on Zulus. He stated that if she had gone to the local library and borrowed all the available books on Zulus she could find then she would become one of the leading experts in their city on the subject. If she had travelled to South Africa and lived in a Zulu kraal for several months and studied all the literature on Zulus at a South African university then she would have gone on to be one of the top experts in the UK and possibly in the world. Slater believed that the more you focus on an area, then the easier it is to become an expert in that area. This expertise gives you a competitive advantage over others.

Most successful people are known for their focus. They are usually experts of one, maybe two things at most. They have zeroed in on what differentiates them from their peers. This is a niche which they would have mastered over a number of years. It takes the investment of time, effort and finances to become a master of one thing. It is said that you can’t chase two or more rabbits at the same time because you won’t catch any but if you focus on one and go after it with zeal and determination then the odds are in your favour of catching it.

Most people feel that becoming a master of one thing reduces their knowledge of other things and will result in them knowing a lot about something and practically nothing about other things. This is not always true if you are able to make connections with other disciplines. For instance, my main topic of interest is leadership but in order to master it, I draw a lot of leadership knowledge from the world of sports (Football and American Football), politics, religion, and business/management. This means that though I have a main focus, I still have multiple subject areas to draw inspiration from and these connections enrich my knowledge of leadership.

The key task is to identify what topic, niche or area you need to focus on and once identified then dedicate and discipline yourself to master it by paying the price in terms of time, effort and finances.

4 replies on “The Zulu Principle”

I like this, Prof, and I’m grateful you took time to answer my question.
So… FOCUS is the key to maximizing my potentials. The time has come for developing expertise that will generate favourable returns, not just financially.
At the same time I’m glad you also impart that although one should have a primary, it’s also okay to have secondary foci. I like knowing about different things, but now I’m looking at how the different things can feed into my major focus.
Thanks again!

Honestly Ola, you’ve hit the nail on the head… Its not bad being a Jackie of all trade but its even better to be an expert in one or two things and that takes FOCUS.

I’d been contemplating a lot of things recently but a discussion I had with my brother is in line with your current post and actually put things in perspective… if you’re good at what you do currently, try to get better at it, put your best efforts into it and become an ‘authority’ in it! It can be summarised into one word; ‘focus’.

Another good post Ola! Well done.

Thanks Ola… now I’ve got a laptop again, I thought I could do something… I love writing anyway, so easy way out for me. I’m thinking about a book but not put my thoughts together just yet. Will keep you posted.x

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