What is a generalist?
A generalist is an employee who does not stick to and specialize in just one field. Likewise, a deep generalist or polymath is a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning, who excels in multiple and unrelated fields. Generalists may work many contrasting jobs in their lives but pull from their experiences to do the best at whatever current job they inhabit. We won’t deny the critical role specialists have in a company, but a blend of generalists and specialists can help greatly optimize a company.
Think of a generalist as an animal that can adapt to any environment. These animals have a greater chance of surviving in the wild than animals that can’t adapt. Being a generalist means a greater chance of success, survival, and enjoying doing different things in life.
1- Bring in Innovative Ideas
A generalist is an outsider. He can bring in innovative ideas that employees for the company would not routinely think of. Specialists are trained in their field. They use theory and best practices. However, at times it’s helpful to throw a few generalists into the mix that can bring in outside ideas to a company that can lead to innovative turns.
2- They are Better Forecasters
With outside knowledge and a perspective that isn’t biased toward one specific way, generalists can forecast problems that are bound to happen to a company. They act as an outside eye looking in to spot problems that can happen to a company, but be overlooked by those who are too focused on their specific field of interest. While specialists may be unwilling to see defeat or notice problems in their field of expertise, generalists can approach situations from a humbler approach, since they know they are always learning and thereby can never always be right.
3- They are Problems solvers
With bringing in innovative ideas and seeing problems before they arise, generalists can better solve problems that might plague a company. Think of it as bringing a visitor into your home. They may notice cracks in your walls that you’ve overlooked because of living in your home for so long. Generalists can see the cracks in your building and bring in a new perspective on how to patch the cracks up.
4- They are Better Leaders
Coming from various careers means you have to learn various skills to adapt and strive at each new job. This can make generalists or polymaths great Chiefs of Staff and leaders at your companies. They can bring in their varying degrees of knowledge from different trades in order to find the best solutions and paths for each of your company’s varying teams. A specialist can only lead and coach another person in their field of expertise. Also, a specialist may have not had the necessary training to be a leader. However, a generalist has a broad sense of the world and how varying teams’ function and can use this knowledge to not only lead people in their field at the moment, but people in other teams and fields of careers as well. Generalists and polymaths are willing to learn and adapt quickly to any new challenge or job.
Oxford neuroscientist Anders Sandberg has a strong opinion on this “The manager solves manageable problems, a leader solves unknown problems. The leader probably has to be a kind of polymath. I would be very worried about a hedgehog (specialist) leader”, He said.
5- They are Integrators of Knowledge
Overall, generalists are integrators of knowledge. They can blend their history of jobs, trade, and knowledge to help a company deal with a wider variation of issues that may occur in the workplace. They can infuse a stagnant work place with new ideas from an outsider’s perspective. This variation of knowledge will add much to a workplace in coordination with specialist worker’s expertise on their aligned field of study.