Innovation, Knowledge, Productivity, project management

Specialize AND Generalize – a Case for Generalists in Every Business

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to consult with multiple medical specialists. Among the many fascinating aspects of these encounters, what stood out to me the most was what was missing! In reflecting upon the lack of holistic perspective in patient care, I was reminded of how valuable generalists are in business endeavors everywhere. Are you actively engaging your generalists?

Here are a few ways generalists can help your business:

Generalists are not vested in how you’ve always done it

Specialists have frequently spent years perfecting their methods. They are the highly trained, highly skilled, and highly vested in the solutions they’ve created. In our rapidly changing world, sometimes the optimal solution has its roots in unexpected and seemly foreign fields. This is at the heart of knowledge transfer and often leads to amazing innovations. Generalists, by definition, know a little bit about a lot of different things. This broader exposure allows them to quickly grasp the essence of a situation, consider whether similar challenges in other disciplines might have bearing, and follow the logic along a path often dismissed or completely unseen by those with more concentrated professional experience.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

– Albert Einstein

Generalists see the big picture

The wide-ranging exposure that generalist have typically leads to greater experience in overarching organizational roles than that of their specialist counterparts. Their experience affords them a 50,000 foot view of both the interconnection among individual business functions and the influence of forces outside the organization, such as regulatory agencies; competitors; customers; and trends or events that may impact the company or the industry as a whole.

Generalists are flexible

Typically, generalists also have a solid command of the many soft skills necessary for business success. While the responsibilities overseen by generalist may vary considerably, what most have in common is that their job descriptions are, at least in practice, loosely defined (such as manager) and their day-to-day tasks include a robust blend of problem-solving, decision-making, team-building, communications, negotiations, and leadership skills. Their behaviors, as well as their thinking, are inherently flexible making generalists exceptional at delivering out-of-the-box ideas that are both creative and innovative.

Actively engage your generalists – and leverage their progressiveness, vision and flexibility!

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