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“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”- E.B. White

On Generalists

Many people advocate the need among other ones for being a generalist in our connected world or a polymath. Here’s an interesting take.

“Today I can hardly say I have world-class expertise in the field, however the depth of knowledge I had in the past means I still understand the fundamentals of the space, and is highly complementary to the new skills I have acquired more recently.

So there is the potential for us to develop what we might call “Comb-shaped” skills, in which we have many specific domains of expertise as well as breadth. In this case we can certainly never match the knowledge of a deep specialist in any one area.

However in an increasingly complex, interconnected and interdependent world, if we have sufficient depth in several – or even many – domains, we can often be more valuable than a specialist.

What do you think? Do you think developing “Comb-shaped” skills is a viable strategy for many people, or should most focused on “T-shaped” or “Pi-shaped” skills?” — @rossdawson

This great talk by Ella Saltmarshe made me also reflect on the benefits of becoming a generalist as I took some notes:


Addicted to learning: keep learning at any age.

Balance for extensive research + sharing your cross-pollination of ideas/sense-making. It is your contribution to the world.

C for seeing the periphery, scanning the horizon. Seeing beyond, sharing insights and seeing who else see what you see.

Use your diverse skills for collaboration, cooperation, co-creation.

Benefits of Being a Creative Generalist

The benefits of being a creative generalist show that there is an emergence of polymaths. It can be a turning point in our lives:

“the potential to transition from a competent specialist to being a voracious generalist again is one of the most important inflection points in life.” — @skap5

Perhaps just another way for expressing the same idea is: be antidisciplinary. Practices like curating interests not just specialities are relevant:

“Many people know the value of using content curation as a tool for thought leadership. Curating content around your specialty or area of expertise, and adding a point of view, is a great way to build your thought leadership. However, many are now just beginning to understand the value of curating over a wider set of interests.

In addition to displaying your expertise, content curation can be a means to lifelong and collaborative learning. Becoming a “Generalist” is a 21st century skill set. Learning how to curate your interests can increase your chances for serendipity by allowing you to connect through valuable “weak ties” – or “friends of friends.” Weak ties drive the value of networks exponentially.”

On the same wavelength:

“A generalist, according to me, is one who can explore, venture into unknown territories and domain, learn from new experiences and apply that in areas beyond one’s specialization.” — @sahana2802

Mindset of a Creative Generalist

This mindset could be: go beyond labels by embracing the mess of the artist and focusing on building qualitative relationships, embracing diversity of ideas, people and experience by being unlabel. It could also be: being an expert newbie:

“I like the idea of always being a newbie, a sort of expert newbie. This brings the excitement of novelty and the fulfillment of learning new things, on a regular basis. Yet there is a major risk with this posture, a risk that Matthew Crawford spotted very clearly in Shop class as Soulcraft : the tendency of the knowledge worker to multiply potentialities, knowing roughly how to do many things (and not doing any) rather than doing a limited number of things very well.”

It also could be about going beyond one method, approach, framework, process like systems thinking, design thinking or any approach. I am wondering these days if it is really about mixing up different approaches for shaping our own cornucopia.

How do you embrace creativity and multidisciplinarity?

“Reflections on the value of the generalist — from the business community“ — Carl Gombrich @carlgomb, Programme Director UCL Arts & Sciences BASc @UCLbasc.

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