Geek As Citizen: Omnicompetence And It’s Discontents

Heroic Rider

(Note, an earlier draft of this essay was published inappropriately.  This is the edited version.  Enjoy the irony of an essay on competence having mistakes in it 😉 )

I first heard the term “Omnicompetence” in reference to Elon Musk of Tesla and his proposal for the Hyperloop, back when it made a splash in the news. The term was applied to how some people viewed Mr. Musk; being successful, smart, and moving electric cars forward, there were those that imbued him with an aura of Omnicompetence – that his successes in one area meant he would be successful in other areas or indeed all areas. This of course is not to single out Mr. Musk because I’m sure we’ve all seen similar breathless assumptions, and I rather like what he’s done with Tesla.

I love the term “Omnicompetence” because it defines something I see way too often; the idea that a person good at one thing must be good in other things or many things. We often see it, where people who are famous are asked their opinions on medicine, politicians opine on theology, and writers of fiction are asked about technology. In a way we’re quite used to it.

Yet, when we look at the idea of Omnicopmetence logically, it falls apart. Few people are truly good at a broad swatch of things, many are good at only a few things, and some just aren’t that hot anything but got lucky. We also know that some people’s “success” is really irrelevant to who they are; rich due to inheritance, famous due to a sex tape, and so forth.

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