The Neo-Generalist — Why & What
A generalist has specialities and experience in many diverse areas. At the same time, they accept that they don’t know some areas. Those specialities and experience can be developed and honed in many ways: self-directed and social learning, courses, contents, events such webinars, workshops, conferences, meetups, coaching/mentoring, online communities of practice and learning communities, projects, volunteering activities, hobbies such as music and arts, sports. I certainly miss other ways.
We need more people who connect the dots between approaches, ideas, actions, tools as the world and our work are becoming complex because of complex knowledge, tasks, automation, emerging hiring and learning practices. Those generalists are smart and modern creative—Renaissance men who have a multi-disciplinary and transmedia approach. One approach, practice, mindset, idea, or many combined from one area can be applied in another domain.
In this interview for Scenario Magazine, they share their intent with this book:
“I hope that our book can serve as a conversation starter and hopefully open people’s eyes to a more inclusive way of looking at the value that specialists and generalists add to society.” — Kenneth Mikkelsen
I was interviewed by Kenneth Mikkelsen to be mentioned in the book:
“Researcher and digital explorer Rotana Ty, for example, in reflecting on his own experiences living on the specialist–generalist continuum and adapting to contextual shifts, makes reference to the disc-jockey concept favoured by Sanders and Sloly. A DJ, particularly in the era that followed the emergence of hip hop in the late 1970s, constantly borrows from, samples and remixes existing music to create something new. They do in music what the modernist authors of the 1920s were doing in literature; stealing like artists, as Austin Kleon phrases it.
(…) In another variation, business adviser, analyst and occasional jazz pianist Jane McConnell favours the metaphor of the drinks mixologist, who like a DJ crafts something unique from creative integration. The neo-generalist is ever curious, painting pictures, telling stories, mixing, sampling, experimenting, trying to redraw the edges of the map.”
DJing is my favourite metaphor for what a neo-generalist does—someone who is a curation and co-creation DJ of people, ideas, and actions to impact our world. A DJ explores styles, influences, cultures and brand new vibes at large.
As a word person and visual thinker, I made sense of what I read: some thoughts visually and additional through the visual below. I have included in this visual the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and UNESCO.
View and hear this TEDx Talk from Kenneth Mikkelsen. Consider using the visuals and words below. Zoom in. There is also an insightful interview with Kenneth Mikkelsen on the value of neo-generalists. Few notes I took and shared:
With the pandemic, we can move from problem-solving and tools oriented to adjusting to new realities with reflection and action. The pandemic is more a condition to adapt to than a problem to solve. We become adaptive through learning.
Neo-generalists know different languages and traverse other domains to pick one area to apply to cross-pollination. They understand the language in one speciality to negotiate the new reality with people in the bubble.
“Neo-generalists find it hard to describe what they do, to which I can relate. Neo-generalists defy common understanding. They cross boundaries, and some break them. They see patterns before others do” — Harold Jarche