I came across this great quote from professor and author Neil Postman: “Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” It’s true, and it makes one (ok, maybe just me) wonder about the shortage of creative generalists in business…
When was the last time you saw a business job posting for a generalist position? Common, no, but not unheard of. Let me rephrase that. When was the last time you saw a business job posting for a junior generalist position? Now we’re in rare air.
There is an underlying myth that general knowledge and true synthesis skills can only come from experience. This basically means that a junior generalist can only be an oxymoron, and that the best thing a company can do is eventually give one of its younger specialists broader duties and “wean” him or her into a more generalist mindset. I would argue that this is a faulty way of approaching this, that generalist thinking is now a specialty unto itself and that a naïve perspective is no less valuable and illuminating than an experienced perspective – and, if anything, the two need to cross paths much more often than they do.
The reality is though that the business world does little to support these important divergent-thinking minds. Further to that, North American schooling makes it extremely difficult for any young mind to adopt a generalist mindset, especially with post-secondary education programs so in line with highly focused career tracks (heck, even high school students now have immense pressure on them to already be pursuing a specific career well before they graduate). Specialization is being institutionalized. There is little in the way of financial career incentive for students of everything. As a result, those with either the fortitude to avoid overspecializing in any one area or those who have the aptitude to be serial specialists will be in short supply and, increasingly, in high demand.