Self-taught unicorns - jimi hendrix the greatest guitarist of all time

Self-taught unicorns vs regular amazing humans

While it is a fact that some self-taught folks seem just to be born with a special gift, it is also a truth that most of us have to put in a lot of hard work to excel at what we wish.

Long story short

A few weeks ago, the One More Time podcast episode featured the founder of Burgez Simone Ciaruffoli. The session invited me to reflect on Mr. Ciaruffoli’s message about his experience as a self-taught businessman.


Whenever I meet or listen to self-taught fans or evangelists, I ask them a question: would they feel okay about getting surgery done by someone who only learned how to use a scalpel through online videos and training? Or would they prefer a surgeon who spent over twenty years learning and perfecting their craft?

Guess their answers…

I started looking at the “self-taught” English definition, which sounds much better than the Italian one. Indeed, The Italian translation of self-taught is “autodidatta”. In Italy, this word can sometimes deliver the meaning of limitation and not as an achievement to be proud of.

I think the term “self-taught” is way overrated these days. From my experience within the digital industry, it’s not often you see someone who’s taught themselves completely nailing it in such a highly demanding environment.

I admit that my cultural background likely influences this viewpoint, as I have always had a great deal of trust in the education process as a means of becoming a better person. However, recently, I have noticed that people who invest significant time, money, and effort in pursuing an educational path are often considered naive. Why should individuals attend university, apply for a master’s degree or an MBA when they can rely on resources such as YouTube or Medium, or attend weekend courses to (believe to) attain the same level of proficiency?

Well, here are three points that will back up my argument. Let me break them down:

Self-taught isn’t all glitter and gold. Here are three reasons why:

I don’t bear the narrative telling you can excel at something by teaching yourself. It’s a misconception that can be harmful, especially when someone sends the self-taught approach to the young generations. To oversimplify my angle, I prefer to say that you must bust your buns to excel.

  • Natural vs. educational talent. There are only two options for achieving mastery of a skill. First, you may be a natural talent who excels effortlessly because it is in your DNA—like Jimi Hendrix was with the guitar. However, very few people possess such an innate ability. The second option, unfortunately, applies to most of us: work incredibly hard and devote significant amounts of time, money, and energy to achieving our goals.
  • Listen, learn and demonstrate. Young folks must trust the education system and truly invest in it. This journey should be seen as a learning experience that will prepare them for the real world, both professionally and personally. When going through it, they will receive a long-term goal divided into short-term milestones distributed across a timeline. Does this ring any bell?
  • Adapt and improve. Especially in the digital industry, and even more within the design practice now more than ever, it is critical to invest in talents chomping to practice what they’ve learned. We have seen the side effects of companies hiring self-taught designers. In high-pressure environments, designers who lack formal education in design methodologies and business fundamentals often struggle to effectively communicate with senior managers and make a meaningful contribution to unlock business value. This gap can significantly hinder the progress of the design practice, particularly for those not well-versed in the language of business.


Don’t get me wrong, I love Jimi Hendrix and would love to have 1% of his talent. My point is that both public and private organizations must support folks who want to improve themselves and contribute to making the world a better place.
Self-taught people are unique because they have a natural knack for their passions. Education programs are crucial—they can help bring out the best in people and prepare them for success. We all want to be as good as Hendrix, but let’s not forget that education is the key to unlocking our true potential.

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2 thoughts on “Self-taught unicorns vs regular amazing humans”

  1. An interesting post. My view is that formal education is useful in well known environments and situations. It provides guard rails and efficiency. However, one should be aware that there are in almost all subject matters different schools of thought. If you know one of them very well, but nothing else, you will very likely get stuck. Changing perspective, zooming in, zooming out, paning, rotating, is a more robust approach than relying on a single framework, no matter how self consistent it might be.

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective.
      I wholeheartedly agree that encouraging a culture of “changing perspective” can significantly expand one’s knowledge. In my opinion, this approach has been proven to be effective. However, I also believe that a formal and well-established educational path is the critical pillar of people’s knowledge development. Both methods can complement each other in building a well-rounded understanding of a subject matter.

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