On Being a Generalist

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." - Robert A. Heinlein

Timothy Ferriss recently released a short podcast (episode 19) that outlined the benefits of being a generalist. It struck a deep cord and I thought I would share his five reasons to be a generalist here, in descending order:

5. "Jack of trades, master of none" is a false dichotomy.

  • Mastering a skill is different than perfecting a skill
  • 80/20 rule - 20% of the knowledge gives 80% return
  • Study to the point of, but not beyond, rapidly declining return
  • 10k hour rule has been discredited, correlation does not mean causation
  • It is possible to be world class in any skill in 1 year

4. In a world of dogmatic specialists, its often the generalist who ends up running the show.

  • Knowledge has been democratized, we have access to intellectual capital when we need it
  • Generalist can predict and innovate faster
  • Proper leaders must weave everything together
  • Leadership requires multiple perspectives

3. Boredom is failure.

  • The opposite of happiness is not sadness, but boredom
  • Lack of intellectual stimulation drives us to depression
  • Over specialization almost guarantees boredom
  • Leaders never have an identity born from one skill set

2. Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear.

  • Contentedness is related to embracing confidence
  • Diversity of knowledge breeds empathy with broadest range of human conditions and experiences

1. It's more fun.

  • The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life
  • He enjoys the pursuit of excellence while discovering what he is built to dominate in    
  • He looks at the same problems that have been ‘solved’ and sees something different

In the spirit of this post, I mapped my experience and skills in the hopes that it would help me to better understand how I describe what I do (post disciplinary design and strategy). While I still have a hard time describing what I do, this was a fun exercise.