Generalists

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The world marches forward. Our ingenuity knows no bounds: We are creating machines more intelligent than ourselves. We will soon cheat death. We are going to Mars and beyond. We are making meat from plants. We are curing diseases. We are becoming masters of our own destiny.

We are doing this through incredible collaboration and we are doing this through deep specialisation. Our economy, technology and systems become more complex and we each play an ever-shrinking role, a small but functional part of the whole.

Look everywhere. Health is broken up into endocrinology, cardiology and a myriad of other specialisms. The government has departments upon departments. An engineer builds just a fraction of an app, a tiny piece of an algorithm. Small parts of an ecosystem, cogs in the machine. We become personal brands.

Specialism is important. Specialism has value. Specialism builds niche content and allows us to build incredible things.

We need to be careful that we don’t lose the generalists.

Generalists connect ideas together. Generalists provide context. Generalists see impacts across domains. Generalists should aim to get away from biases arising from specialised ways of thinking.

The greatest scientists were often philosophers and artists. Science needs philosophy and multi-disciplinarians for making great leaps. Leonardo Da Vinci is perhaps the best known of these. Einstein drew on philosophy. Newton would have considered himself a philosopher before a scientist.

The best chefs and restaurants (think The Fat Duck, Noma) are the ones that bring a new way of thinking to their art – an understanding of the science of cooking or the senses, or the forest.

It is harder to be a generalist as knowledge progresses, expands, becomes more technical. We need to make sure that people continue to explore across disciplines and that this exploration is not beyond our capacity.

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2 Replies to “Generalists”

  1. Yes yes yes!
    I couldn’t agree more.

    Technocrats reach ever more detailed and skilled depths. Their dots are ever smaller, refined and edging towards perfection.

    Generalists will always be needed to join those dots. I feel much more comfortable in this space personally.

    Great post, very salient x

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