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Generalists Are The Most Curious And Have The Deepest Mental Models

If the world or a company wants to put you in a certain box (but can't) - this article and the under recommended book might be interesting for you.

If you are also one of those who fit in many boxes and even connect them (aka a generalist) it’s for many (read:most) rather confusing because you don’t fit into the crowd of most or in the cube system. Although generalists bring much wider and more visionary views, more diverse experience and therefore think more innovative and find faster and easier "out of the box” creative simple solutions, they/we are the parrots between the penguins or chameleons between the lizards.

Generalists are like Jokers by playing cards - they fit in everywhere, it's especially “handy” by crisis management, organisational or branding reinventions and by any kind of transformations. Usually they are most effective when working as leaders, entrepreneurs, facilitators, marketing/branding/sales managers, writers, mentors or teachers.

Even Bill Gates, the father of Microsoft, highly appreciates generalists. He says: "I believe that one of the key reasons Microsoft took off is because we thought more broadly than other startups of that era. We hired not just brilliant coders but people who had real breadth within their field and across domains. I discovered that these team members were the most curious and had the deepest mental models." In his last Gates Notes "5 good books for a lousy year" he also recommends the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. Saying "His examples run from Roger Federer to Charles Darwin to Cold War-era experts on Soviet affairs. I think his ideas even help explain some of Microsoft’s success, because we hired people who had real breadth within their field and across domains. If you’re a generalist who has ever felt overshadowed by your specialist colleagues, this book is for you."

I myself am definitely (and fortunately) one of them. Although actually all I did till today, what I know for now or love to do is all together just doing my best and all possible to make any business, project, team, individual or company successful. I helped myself with a deepened vertical knowledge/learning of diverse industries and sciences that were/are involved in the particular problem/project/mission, and were/are needed to be involved for its success.

I studied marketing and business administration plus did a couple of years a PhD research in medicine (in psychiatry) - which goes very well together with business since psychology is the base of marketing, sales, leadership and creativity. We all know that dealing with people for over 20 years brings you quickly to the point where you are more curious about psychiatry (smile). Well, actually my research was focused on neuroscience: music/dance for therapies of trauma, burnout and anxieties with children (and grownups, of course); developing special music/sounds for the first 1000 days of life, from the womb on for the best brain foundation development and so make the brain most resilient (and intelligent).

Then come my boxes of experience in many different industries: banking, insurance, robotics & autonomous systems, technology, transportation, (business and children’s) education, neuroscience, psychology, hospitality, gaming, agriculture & food, sports & professional dance, art & theatre, health & medical, teaching, retail, wine business, stainless steel production, media, real estate, public services, advertising, video & print & production, animals welfare & animal therapy, wellness & nutrition etc.

Within all these verticals come always the three main horizontals/ pillars of every business in all verticals: 1) technology/digitalisation, 2) entrepreneurship/skilling and 3) sustainability/regeneration. So also for these three pillars we need to do a special research, studies and trainings plus have lots of experience to be able to contribute something meaningful and useful.

I was/am working in the positions of: founder, manager, leader, teacher, mentor, coach and a volunteer. So, if I was not founding my own company, I was always head-hunted by those who knew me well or worked with me before. A normal job application with my full CV is rather overwhelming for the "boxed" overspecialised people and most find it confusing and "too much" (like: "But wait, how old are you with all these???"). So I guess having 5 specialised, so called "expert's" CVs for different job applications might work best for me and for those who can't handle best (too much) diversity and generalists. (Small print: Like there is no possibility to learn so many new skills throughout our life long learning. Like curiosity is not a great trait?! I mean: attitude defines altitude! Skills are easy, curiosity and passion are hard to find.)

If you are super curious and you want to innovate and solve problems, you automatically start envisioning the possible (craziest) solutions, regardless the industry or the field your problem is in/from. You simply dive deeply in, do your own research, learn fast and search for ideas with all your passion. In some fields or expertise you go deeper, especially where your talent and interests are feeling at home. This helps us connecting the dots, building ecosystems and partnerships, bringing people and organisations together, solving complex problems and developing different thinking and solutions. We all specialise and become some kind of experts in certain fields, but having a more general background and many interests with tons of infinite curiosity - it’s only an advantage. Then you don’t only fit into a certain box of a corporation or a company but you melt with it. You fill every leak and hole in parallel with your diverse knowledge, experience and ability to connect the dots. You do it by the way, since it feels normal to you. Any company that works with clients from different industries needs a deeper knowledge of these industries; how they work, how they think, their market, their competitors, their needs and visions to be able to really cooperate in the best way for both sides. And to be able to advise them objectively and meaningfully what is best for them. Even if the company works with some sort of outsourced partners specialised in certain industries, the core company needs to understand at least some depth the industry of the client to be able to choose their own partners best. And not blindly fall for the spectacular bullets descriptions, fancy titles or even professionally polished charisma.

The smartest people in corporates anyway do and play the role of their official position but engage in many "out of their curriculum" activities on the side. This gives them/us extra excitement, learnings and meeting new people and new perspectives which also brings success to their/our core activity/position at the end. Because everything in the company/corporation is (read: should be) interconnected. Understanding the whole corporate and global matrix makes great employees, successful managers and top role model leaders. Being a generalist means being street-smart and having common sense. Knowing that you might freak out most people because they don’t know where to put you or even what to do with you is to be expected. And then there are a few brilliant entrepreneurs and exceptional leaders who recognise the potential of bringing different and wider perspective, of finding innovative solutions, of creating communities and ecosystems by connecting things, people and companies. And they find any possible "out of the blue print" position to get into their pack. Having and extra scientific expertise into one field is of course a great advantage but having at least a bit of a general knowledge overview and experience on top is even better. So that you know how to apply your specific scientific knowledge into different industries and within diverse systems and people.

Having a degree, a diploma, a position or a fancy title is nice. It gives you a recognition and a polished personal branding for your career and for the society. It can put you somewhere into the cube system, so you kind of fit-in. But this is not enough. We are here to improve the world, to help and empower others. Especially those who don’t have our experience and who are not blessed with so many possibilities like we are or even have no voice. Doing "just a job" is simply not enough. Growing (if at all) just liner is not good enough. We are here to shine in more directions, out of the specialised boxes, so we will also better understand each other and natural synchronicities and be able to holistically approach our relationships, work and life. We need to (read: must) improve the status quo of our environment, society and humanity. So we need even more wide general knowledge, more generalists. We need generalists working together with experts, to brainstorm and find best solutions for a better world. (It's sad how "for a better world" sounds like a floskule, exploited and abused words without any serious meaning.)

And beside all skills and experience we also need a humane heart, compassion, passion, selflessness and (what I call) the entrepreneurial 8B: Brain, Backbone, Balance, Benevolence, Buoyancy, Brightness, Belief and Bravery.

I am here with 8B, a couple of skills and some experience that complement millions of other skills and experience I don't have ...yet (smile). By bringing TOGETHER all diverse skills, experts and generalists, experience, backgrounds and cultures we can (read: will) change the world.


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