Return to site

Mindset: The specialist vs the generalist

Today I’m sharing some insights about the mindset of a generalist vs specialist and how to gel different thinking styles. It is from my research relating to problem solving and the Why of any problem.


How can we equip young people to thrive in a changing world? 

Today, we are looking at mindset. We all get conditioned in life to think based on the environment, people and subject matter we work towards. That’s how mindset works, we see, we do, we copy, we repeat, we adjust and over time we get fixed into a pattern of not just behaviours but also patterns of thinking.


Let’s consider the specialist.


How - The classic education path of getting a degree, work on that subject, get a masters, work on that subject, get a job, work on that subject, rinse and repeat.


Who - The specialist is any word you can fit in front of specialist like Ear. They are domain experts like Behavioural Psychologist or a Neuroscientist. They are subject matter experts like the Organisational Consultant. They know their ‘stuff’.


Mindset - They learn what the book says, they understand the models, they repeat what they see, they follow the model, they use their specialism to fix stuff.

Now, the generalist.


How - Non linear career, some with degrees, some without, some in society, some outlier. They rinse and repeat but in their own ways, the ones who have lived ‘many lives’.


Who - The outlier, the disruptor, the ‘weird brain’ (common phrase from the many interviews I have done), they are a little bit different, don’t always know how what to call themselves, creates a scenario when they are not always understood.


Mindset - The are less about following rules and more about creating their own patterns, solving stuff, connecting dots that the book and the model can never see.


It doesn’t make the specialist wrong, it just makes them a specialist.


It doesn’t make the generalist wrong, it just makes them a generalist.


Where I have got to for stuff like this is we need generalists for the doing, they by nature of their conditioning are more open of mind. Rethink and reread this about specialists:


Mindset - They learn what the book says, they understand the models, they repeat what they see, they follow the model, they use their specialism to fix stuff.


Naturally, as a specialist you are being conditioned to think you have the answers, your knowledge is more fixed to already knowing the answer than being open to new ways. Perfectly fair, when it comes to complex problem solving you need interdisciplinary thinking and an open mind to do that, enter the generalist. I don’t believe there are absolutes in life but one must go with the numbers and the majority wins here but it needs balance. Equally you can’t just randomly select a bunch of generalists and expect that to solve everything.


That’s where precision comes into it.


How can we equip young people to thrive in a changing world? 

And working with specialists to understand the route cause and effect of the problem which turns it into this:

How can we equip young people to thrive in a world beset by climate & ecological issue alongside the clash of a capitalist society being pressed upon an emerging generation driven looking for more purpose, with a different style of thinking and social engagement.

Now, we have the precise language; we can analyse the truth of what is needed and thus model which generalists to put together for each specific challenge.

Problem solving is not about picking A vs B, however, it is about creating the unity of disruptive thinking whilst integrating the right people at the right time.

I’m excited, we have a lot more to cover about the mind of a problem solver and the why of the society needing things solved, stay tuned!

Side Note: The generalist often falls between the lines and misunderstood because the world is constructed around specialists. From the education system, to the academic education system, to the business world it’s constructed based on industrialisation thinking and capitalist behaviours. It’s a proving ground where we keep refining, adding KPIs, making the specialist not just an ear specialist but the left ear specialist (a joke but it’s coming), the more data points, more process, more precision, more defined roles. Where does a philosopher fit in that? Critical thinker? Connectors of dots? ‘Weird brain’ people who look over here to solve something way over there, different is good but society is not constructed to celebrate different. Consider ‘the Linkedin test’ that we all do; we judge a profile as quickly as we can and when it doesn’t tick our industrialised thinking boxes, we reject. Generalists need their voices to be heard

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!