in Books/Reviews

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

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  1. Isn’t that a variant of “T-Shaped People”? Either way, truth is, that there is a upper limit of knowledge, experience, mastery (whatever) that can be ‘assembled’ by/into ONE person. A jar can be filled with various liquids or just one. Some professions require a huge amount of liquid for a person to be called expert, not allowing other liquids to be put in the jar, without displacing another one. Additionally, acquiring new liquid often takes enormous amounts of time. It’s virtually impossible to become a specialist in, say, software architecture within a reasonable amount of time, once ‘the context’ demands it.
    Since most efforts nowadays require multiple people, the real challenge is to find or build ‘the right mix of jars’, some of which are filled with many different liquids, others perhaps with just one or two.

  2. I love the way you do your sketch-notes. They are so beneficial.
    I would like to be one of those “Neo-Generalists” too.

    Wish you all the best.
    Thanks.

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