Generalists vs Specialists

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the rise of the generalist. What’s important to realize though is that this isn’t a question about generalists being better than specialists but instead a question of what role is needed more at this time. In effect, both roles are essential but at certain times one is needed more than the other.

Right now, we are going through a huge transitional period, a paradigm shift from our old world view to a new world view. Everything we know, that allowed us to survive as long as we have, is starting to crumble and collapse around us due to the weight of complexity. To survive, we need to find a new world to live within and we need to find it soon.

What we need now at this time are explorers. These individuals are natural generalists, as they have the ability to quickly learn, adapt and survive on their own with their diverse skillsets. Even more than skills though, they require a certain emotional and spiritual attitude to survive and thrive under adverse and unknown conditions. Most important of all though, they require a natural intuitive ability, similar to systems thinking, to map out and translate an understanding of this new world when they find it and fully realize it in its entirety.

Thus the explorer travels out and after repeated landings from different locations they soon starts getting a visual map of what they have discovered as a whole. This is no different than what many generalists are striving to do now. They are looking at things from different perspectives to try to get a better understanding of the new world view that they are already encountering now, so as to be able to better communicate it to others.

Once the generalist explorer does fully comprehend what they have discovered and can articulate it back to others within the old world, they then become navigators to help others get safely across to this new world. In effect, the generalists role is to help bridge the gap between our old world view and our new world view, so that others can safely traverse it to their new home.

Once this transitional journey has been taken by others, then the next phase of the work begins which is where the specialist comes into play. Specialists are like the colonists and settlers that populate and build within the new world, once it is safe to do so. Unlike explorers, who need diverse skills to survive, specialists can focus on one particular skill because the diversity of the whole colonizing community is what allows them to survive.

So there you have it. Generalists aren’t better than specialists and specialists aren’t better than generalists. Each is integral to the cyclic evolution and emergence of our species as a whole. Generalists are better suited for transitional periods and specialists are better suited for safe stable periods.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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