11 May 2005

Generalist Thoughts

It has happened often in the past few years: Someone asks The Jenius "What do you do?" and the answer is quite long: consultant, writer, problem-solver, entrepreneur, public speaker, editor, researcher, translator, idea generator and teacher. Tack on radio show host and the list is almost complete.

The Jenius is an acknowledged Generalist. A Jenius of All Trades, Master of None. On a personal level, this is a Good Thing. It has given The Jenius free rein to pursue His interests, one of which is avoiding boredom.

Why has The Jenius evolved into this Generalist pattern? First of all, because The Jenius is almost completely unaware of what He really wants to do. Second, His interests are varied, spread across many disciplines, and The Jenius feels happy pursuing them and other interesting ones that come across His path. Third, The Jenius discovered that not being a Specialist was a good thing, because Specialists are often self-limited and thus incapable of stretching to cover new ground. Fourth, The Jenius also discovered that when it comes to making things happen, Generalists have huge advantages over Specialists.

The main difference is flexibility, of both mind and processes (closely related.) Generalists lack any pre-defined way of looking at a situation simply because they have so many "frames" they can use. By and large, Specialists see things through one or maybe two "frames," a product of forcing the greater part of their knowledge into a narrow viewpoint.

And when it comes to implementing solutions or taking actions to generate change, a Generalist tends to adapt his or her methods to the circumstances, rather than attempt the near-impossible: changing the circumstances to fit the method.

Are Generalists better than Specialists? Not really; it depends on the situation. If You need brain surgery, You certainly don't want a Generalist. But if You are trying to grow Your business, You will treasure the people that can wear many hats and get different jobs done.

The problem in Puerto Rico is that Generalists are required to act as if they were Specialists. It seems that people simply cannot understand a Generalist until a "recognizable label" is slapped over the package. The goal--and the error--is in trying to fix the person into a narrowly-defined and traditional (read: old-fashioned) category. Instead of value, you get limitation. Instead of focusing on adaptable skills, the focus is on unchanging experience. One is future-oriented, the other based on the past.

Now apply this general(ist) principle to the current reality in Puerto Rico, where aiming for specialist labels has been firmly established as public policy. Proof: Simply peruse plans and reports issued by government agencies, particularly Economic Development, Education and the Planning Board, as well as the Legislative and Executive branches. These are dotted liberally with references to "specialists" of all stripes, each confined to their own niche. No effort is made to connect specialties, leading one to the impression that these connections will occur by magic.

They won't: that's what Generalists are for. Specialists are valuable, but specialization over the long term is a dead end in a rapidly-changing and constantly evolving world.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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