The Mosaic Principle: A book review by Bob Morris

mosaicThe Mosaic Principle: The Six Dimensions of a Remarkable Life and Career
Nick Lovegrove
PublicAffairs (November 2016)

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman

I was reminded of Whitman’s observation as I began to read this book in which Nick Lovegrove engages his reader in an extended exploration of what the potentialities are in six dimensions of a remarkable life and career. As he explains, each of us really does have a choice: increase the breadth or increase the depth of our lives. “In today’s world, there are intensifying pressures on us to choose depth [i.e. specialization], because the world is increasingly obsessed with the power of narrow specialist expertise” and if we resist that siren call of greater specialization, “if at least sometimes we move in the direction of breadth, and diversity, and life outside the comfort zone, then we open up all sorts of possibilities.”

With regard to the word “mosaic,” its original meaning was “belonging to the Muses” and that seems to imply what Lovegrove views as a multifaceted unity. “This book defines the mosaic [the metaphor] as an organizing concept not just for society but for each of us as individuals. The essence of the Mosaic Principle is that we can each build a remarkable life and career of eclectic breadth and diversity — rather like assembling small pieces of material and placing them together to create a unified whole. When we follow this principle, we too can experience the pleasure and fulfillment of a full, well-rounded adaptable life.”

So, what’s the problem with highly developed specialization? “We are starting to pay a heavy price for this obsession — individually and as a society. More and more people with a broad range of intrinsic capabilities and interests are living relatively narrow lives — because that is what is what they think, and what they are told, it will take them to achieve professional success and personal fulfillment. And more and more aspects of our society are being undermined and damaged by this narrow and limiting focus, and by the adverse consequences of an over reliance on deep specialists.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Lovegrove’s coverage:

o Dr. Paul Farmer (Pages 9-12, 69-70, and 80-81)
o Transferable Skills (26-27 and 137-153)
o Prepared Minds (28-29 and 227-259)
o Financial Crisis of 2008 (36-41, 44-45, and 116-117)
o Moral complexity (69-72)
o David Hayes (104-113)
o BBC (135-137)
o Future business leaders (142-150)
o Iraq (153-157)
o Contexts (175-182)
o Adapting to new contexts (185-189)
o Networks (198-226)
o Broader teams (210-214)
o Broadening career options (214-221)
o Careers (263-271)
o Foley Center for the Study of Lives (278-281)
o Arnold Bennett (285-288)

In the Epilogue, Longlove concludes his explanation of how he thinks people can – and should – seek both professional success and personal fulfillment. Whitman’s observation quoted earlier is a useful reminder (for those who need one) that people tend to be far more complicated and – yes, at times contradictory – than we seem willing to concede. That said, professional success and personal fulfillment are not and should not be viewed as mutually-exclusive. Development of each involves a process, one of rigorous preparation and another of bold exploration.

As I concluded my first reading of this book, I was again reminded of what I had learned while reading another book, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. So much of what Sarah Bakewell shares about Montaigne’s values tracks with many of Nick Longlove’s insights as well as with observations he cites from a variety of other sources, notably Arnold Bennett.

Although the metaphor has become a cliché, each life really is a journey…one of personal discovery. My hope is that the material in this book will help those who absorb and digest it to become more venturesome in their own exploration of possibilities and potentialities.

In this context, I am again reminded of this passage in T.S. Eliot’s classic work, Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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