on being a Generalist · 23. Juni 2004, 13:07

Re: Read/Write Web: Mama don’t let your baby grow up to be a Generalist [via]

That’s an Interesting Article by Richard. I suppose the “Don’t be a generalist”-Thesis was mainly rethorical to get across a couple of other (very valid) points, but I’ll do as if I hadn’t noticed and defend being a generalist:

I agree that a as a generalist you sometimes get in situations where you are doing (not-so-exciting) stuff, just because you can. But behold: It may only seem “mind-numbingly boring” from your generalist POV, remember that there likely are specialists that do exactly that, and they never get a chance to do anything else (OK, I am exaggerating quiet a bit here, but you get the point). And likely they are ok with it, because from their POV it’s actually OK/interesting.

And make no mistake (<—I love that phrase): Being a specialist doesn’t mean you only get to do exciting stuff, there are a couple of sayings that make the point far better than I could articulate it:

  1. {specialist-activity} is always 10% inspiration and 90% transpiration.
  2. The grass is always greener on the other side.

And there are advantages of being a generalist: You are not as vulnerable to “group think”, you can value opinions/facts from more than one POV.

You said being a generalist only pays of at the beginning of a career – I disagree, it will also pay of later, in (higher) Management you will mostly find people that are (also) Generalists (even if they started out as specialists).

And the most important: Being a human is about being a generalist. You have to be part philosopher to make sense of life and find long-term goals that motivate you (a career alone will not be it); you have to be part student to learn how to learn and to keep learning in different stages of your life; you have to be part teacher to share what you learned with your companions; with your children, you have to be part historian to make sure that you do your part in preventing that the worst acts of humanity repeat themselfes; you have to be part controller not only to take care of your finances, but to take care of your most valuable asset: time; you have to be part social worker to be there for friends and family when they need you in times of trouble; you have to be part journalist to filter the relevant bits of information from the overwhelming supply and to be able to seperate the truthful from the wrong; you have to be part blue-collar worker for you will only get anywhere in life if you have endurance. And this list could go on and on…

If you agree that being a generalist is a quality in itself (which I beliebe it is), rather than merely being another way of saying of “shallow knowledge of many things, instead of deep knowledge of few things”, – if you agree it is a quality in itself, then you will also agree that mothers should want their kids to grow up to become generalists. You want to be able to “master” your life first, and master your career second.

There, I hope you feel better being a generalist now… ;)