Generalists, specialists and the creative process

About once a month or so, it seems to cross my mind that I should jolly well decide what it is I am interested in or want to ‘do’ and start concentrating on that. Sometimes the thought passes fleetingly past my eyes and out of sight. On other occasions it stays with me, lingering around, causing me to mull it over for a few days…like it has this week.

So I thought I’d get it out in the open and see what others thought.

I have pretty varied interests, as I’m sure most people do. Where I’ve been really lucky, is that I have been able to find ways of working on all of these different things – some of it paid! 😉

I don’t know that they are particularly connected, other than being things I am interested in and work on. Local government reform, open data, banking and community finance, education, community participation, regeneration and the built environment, experimentation, grant making….it’s a bit of a funny list. I suppose you could lump it all under the broad heading of ‘social good’ – at least I’d like to think it would all fit under there. But it is, I think, pretty varied.

So, within all that (and that’s just the stuff I’m currently working on…I’ve done a fair bit of other stuff in the past) it’s probably hard to be an expert in anything. I suppose I like to think of myself as knowing a thing or two about community engagement – so that’s maybe one area I’d consider myself pretty well informed. To be honest I don’t think it’s really to do with how much you know about something.

I think I know quite a bit about some of those things. However I think if you work across a wide range of topics, I think people are probably less likely to see you as an expert in any of them. A polymath is perhaps a rare thing.

One of the consistently beneficial aspects of having varied interests, in my experience, lies in the ability to be creative and innovative. New ideas come, often, from the ability to connect things which might previously have been unconnected. As Steve Jobs said:

“Creativity is just connecting things.”

The wider the range of disconnected inputs we have, the more chance we have of being able to make connections. Although I work across a wide range of subjects, I am constantly seeing connections and ways that approaches can be applied. I believe that the vast majority of my ideas come from taking what is commonplace in one sphere and applying it to another.

Being a generalist – and having a passion for learning new things – gives me a tremendous advantage in seeking creative and innovative solutions to social problems. Whether it’s thinking about using open data in education or applying community investment practice to local government reform, the cross-fertilisation of ideas from one area of work to another is seemingly never ending.

So maybe I should stop worrying about not being a specialist and celebrate the joys of being a generalist…at least for another month.


5 thoughts on “Generalists, specialists and the creative process

  1. Pingback: Generalists, specialists and the creative process | business engine tt

  2. If we changed the names that would help, generalist kind of has a magnolia paint feel to it:). Something like big picture and deep picture thinkers perhaps. Suspect there’s a group of us that interchange between those too during our careers, dive deep for a bit then come back up to join the dots again. I do. Think you’re right about it being about a love of joining the dots, particularly between things the can appear to be unconnected.

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