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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, to be a generalist, a polymath in our connected world. 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:

ABC:

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 to express 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

The mindset of a Creative Generalist

This mindset could be: go beyond labels by embracing the artist’s mess and focusing on building qualitative relationships, embracing the diversity of ideas, people and experience by being unlabeled. 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, processes like systems thinking, design thinking or any approach. I am wondering these days if it is really about mixing different approaches to shape 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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