To best understand the philosophy of a Generalist, it is better see life of a generalist and there is no better way to see the same but to observe his interests.Read the following excerpts which describe a famous personality and try to guess whether he was a generalist or a specialist.
He underwent a change during mid-1970. “I got stoned for the first time; I discovered Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and all that classic stuff. I read Moby Dick and went back as a junior taking creative writing classes.” He also later noted to his official biographer that “I started to listen to music a whole lot, and I started to read more outside of just science and technology—Shakespeare, Plato. I loved King Lear … when I was a senior I had this phenomenal AP English class. The teacher was this guy who looked like Ernest Hemingway. He took a bunch of us snowshoeing in Yosemite.”During his last two years at Homestead High, he developed two different interests: electronics and literature.
So what is your answer whether he is a generalist or a specialist? One thing is clear he is ‘Steve Jobs’, the founder of one of the most valued technology firms of the day.Was a he a qualified electronic engineer? No, he was not but then how did he found a technology firm.He founded the technology firm because he could connect the dots.He knew the value of artistic creativity as well as understood the power of technology.He had a vision to combine the both and create an amazingly valuable product.This ability to connect the dots, to see through multiple dimensions and to think holistically remains at the core of ‘Generalist’ philosophy.A Generalist is not one who merely reads different subjects, he is the one who understands different subjects and appreciates their intricate relationship.
Society’s most valuable positions are handled by politicians.Who are they? They are generalists.They understand different issues very well and try to solve them taking instrumental decisions that set the direction of the society.In gist, the sailor of the society is a Generalist.Generalists are able think beyond parochial elements and have a multi-dimensional approach.Every generalist invariably accepts that there is always more to learn.He has a craving for knowledge and a passion for critical thinking of various issues.Voracious reading, learning from experience and hearing others remain essential qualities of a Generalist.A generalist will invariably try to establish a relationship across various fields and find a balanced solution to a problem.
A generalist is a disciple of Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha and Plato.What is common to them all?The pursuit of knowledge and practice of balanced approach.And to be disciple of them all, you need to read them all. A generalist can never counter a specialist not because he does not know more than a specialist but because he knows that there may be something more to learn from him.And he listens to not one but multiple specialists and takes a holistic and balanced decision.On the other hand, a specialist due to over-knowledge of one subject and under-knowledge of other may never be able to appreciate that. As the world grows complex , specialization will be encouraged and desired but to say that Generalist perspective will not be required is nothing short of ignorance because problems of world are essential multi-dimensional and will remain so.
But the problem is how to quantify a generalist ? Does anyone who reads becomes a generalist or one needs a qualification? Ideally, anyone who is open to ideas, a voracious reader and a good learner is a generalist and can reap its benefits in his own enterprise.However, organisations have been recruiting Generalists through MBA whereas governments have been recruiting the same through civil services.The former is more tilted towards economic dimension whereas later more towards social dimension and yet are similar in their orientation.Both these processes are rigorous and examine a candidate’s ability to understand multiple subjects and to think coherently.The ultimate aim is to produce people who understand the ground conditions and are discipline-agnostic while finding the solution.
In this context, it will not be wrong to say that debate of Specialists versus Generalists is not only anachronistic but is born out of clear ignorance.Specialists and Generalists work in tandem and have a unique role to play.To assume that every specialist can become a generalist but not vice- versa is naive.A specialist cannot become a generalist till he practices hard to become a generalist and similarly, if a generalist works hard he can achieve a decent amount of specialization. Thus, attempts to trivialize generalists is rooted in blocked corridors of mind who fail to see rainbow colors of life.Thus, it is time that this debate may be given a permanent rest and focus should be to use the ability of specialists as well as generalists to build a better society.