The Advantages of Being a Generalist

by | Oct 26, 2014 | Business, Coaching, Personal Development

Being a Generalist

I’m a generalist, by nature and by profession, being a generalist gives me a varied life, I seldom get bored, and at times it gives me a clear advantage over others.

Being a Generalist gives me an open minded approach which is ideal in my job because I’ve often got absolutely no idea what the next patient is going to present with so I need to be open to all possibilities. What’s familiar territory for a specialist is often a place where I visit a lot less frequently but like a seasoned traveller it takes little time for me like most generalists to get my bearings on what’s wrong and of course then what to do.

The pinnacle of a specialists knowledge often leads to the comfortable seat of an armchair professor, here their mind is so focused on a single niche that they fail to see the diminishing returns of their endeavours, whilst being a generalist I specialise to the point of that diminishing return and then move on to something else carrying with me the bulk of this knowledge and another tool for the box.

I’m forever looking sideways and across traditional boundaries those that a specialist never crosses, and for a true generalist the variation, difference and learning something new is the driver and this creates a wider skill base in addition to a more rounded outlook on life.

In the biological world ‘over specialisation leads to extinction of the species’ and this holds true in professions and other aspects of life, if all you do is stick to what you know and what is familiar before long you are heading into a cul-de-sac from which you may never leave and if change happens in your external environment you are in danger of extinction.

Change is inevitable, or as Heraclitus the Greek Philosopher philosopher put it ‘the only thing that is constant is change’ I believe that being a ‘general practitioner‘ should mean that change should be embraced, I worry about some members of my profession are generalist by name and unfortunately no longer a generalist by nature, because for a true generalist change should be seen as an opportunity, for whom is better than a generalist in getting up to speed and coping with the unknown.

A generalist should never be held back by dogma, history or tradition instead they cross boundaries, see patterns and can see a direction when others can’t, and unlike the blinkered approach of a specialist a generalist can crossover their skills, think outside the box, be more strategic and be a natural leader with confidence developed from a wider skill base.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialisation is for insects.” – Robert Heinlein, (from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long).

Be a Generalist by nature, be curious, be more creative, learn from others, and don’t be confined by what you do, instead be a diamond in the rough, be multifaceted and open your mind. Striving to do the same thing everyday is dangerous, it leaves to boredom and maybe even extinction, instead strive to be a true generalist.

Bibliography and References

YouTube. (2017). Choosing to be a ‘Jack of All Trades’ | Dr. Jonathan Griffiths | TEDxNantwich. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

Ferriss, T. (2007). The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades. [online] The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss. Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    OHHHH I am a diamond in the rough, thank you, for your quick evaluation.



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