The term “expert-generalist” was coined by Orit Gadiesh. She defined an Expert Generalist as someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, topics, capabilities, etc. It also means being able to draw on that diverse knowledge base to recognize patterns, connect dots, and improvise on situations. Think of it as being the Jack/Jill of more than one trade with just enough knowledge to give you an edge.
Expert generalism has picked up in popularity of late. In this decade and the last, the dynamic and sometimes fragile economy has necessitated a leaning towards expert generalism. It is fast becoming an essential survival skill. Some writers have argued that that being an expert generalist can be just as beneficial as being a specialist in one specific field. I agree.
I know a food blogger who also happens to work for the European Union. I know a professional photographer who’s a microbiologist. I know a real estate agent who’s also a music and sound producer. Steve Jobs drew on his knowledge of calligraphy and his understanding of design to create a new breed of computing devices. Many successful business owners, authors, and scientists rose to the top by being expert generalists and drawing from their diverse wealth of knowledge to build their empires.
My personal experience has been less than perfect and vaguely successful. However, the minute I started letting some flexibility into my interest areas and the things I studied, I realized I started getting more opportunities and expanding professionally. It also gave me more confidence and independence. So below are some ways being an Expert Generalist early on can help you get ahead.
It’ll broaden your knowledge base
I think with this, the message is in the naming. Having more than surface knowledge in two or three fields broadens your reach and your depth. The desire or curiosity to learn about different topics puts you on the path to be a well-rounded individual. Expanding your knowledge-base goes beyond professional interest. Reading books from international authors, novels in different genres and topics, poetry from other countries, etc., all translate into an eclectic intelligence and reach. It also increases your self-awareness.
It’ll help you make better connections
When you’re used to being outside your comfort zone, you learn to blend in almost effortlessly with different groups of people. Being an expert generalist makes you build more connections with people at greater ease. You are better able to understand diverse perspectives and navigate otherwise unfamiliar situations. It has a similar effect as traveling with an open mind would on a person, but it’s stronger and lasts longer.
You’ll have an open network
Having an open network is an added advantage of being able to build better connections. Not only will you be able to build networks in the different fields or topics you’ve explored, but you’ll also serve as a connector between the people in different groups. Research has shown that having an open network is a high predictor of career success. Try to network outside your industry or field and garner beyond surface information about a different field. It’ll go a long way in your next networking event.
You’ll always have good ideas
As mentioned earlier, being an expert generalist enables you to draw on your diverse knowledge base, recognize patterns and improvise situations. All this put together makes you able to come up with good ideas frequently. Because your experience base is diversified and well spread out, you can recognize and fix loopholes in your thought patterns both consciously and subconsciously. You are more easily able to self-correct. Hence, when you eventually come up with an idea, it’ll most likely be a good and foolproof one.
It gives you a safety net
Specializing in only one field or remaining narrowly focused in one area, leaves you vulnerable to the forces of change. Staying in the bubble of your job or field will do you no good in the long run. Society is changing and the economy along with it. The increasing popularity of short-term work, new and emerging industries, and more unconventional ways to make a living. Having skillsets in two or three other industries could help you in the long run.
You’ll be cooler
Don’t you just love that person at parties who you can always have a great conversation with? That could be you if you are willing to broaden your horizons. The more you learn, the more interesting things you have to say. It doesn’t mean you should go around a party shoving statistics about the mating patterns of migrating sea lions down people’s throats. Instead, it means it’ll be easier for you to have stimulating exchanges and find common ground with different interesting people.
So go out there and read more books, make friendships out of your circle or comfort zone, and learn a new skill.
Do you consider yourself an expert generalist?