Are You a Generalist or a Specialist? Generalists Are Getting Ahead

Are You a Generalist or a Specialist? Generalists Are Getting Ahead

I arrived in Bolivia yesterday, and I’ve already had to acclimate to several different altitudes – starting at sea level and moving up to more than 12,000 feet. It’s nothing a few Advil can’t fix. But for the Heifer International Bolivia team, this country presents many different climates, terrains, and habitats; it just might have the most diverse landscape on earth.

Heifer International is helping communities here transform socially and economically through training and assistance. For them, one solution won’t work. This team of Heifer leaders must have a broad understanding of the Bolivian landscape and the hundreds of cultures that exist here. They can’t specialize in just one piece of knowledge; they’ve got to have a systems understanding. To sustain their relevance in this culture and maximize their impact, they must be generalists – something many organizations are asking of their leaders as business grows globally and changes rapidly.

For Heifer to help Bolivian communities transform (mainly through agricultural development), this organization and its leaders have to know what works well at 18,000 feet and at 180 feet. In the highlands, Heifer helps communities grow potatoes and grains. Llamas do pretty well up there, as well. In the lowlands, the focus is on cows and corn. The valleys are perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.

Combine that with different processes for each produce and mix in any number of ethnic groups, languages, customs and lifestyles, and this is a job for Anywhere Leaders who are skilled generalists – right here in Bolivia.

As you nurture your generalist nature, consider the points below:

  1. Expand your view. Take an interest in different stuff, not just one thing. Bill Gates isn’t just a techno-geek. He’s fanatical about linguistics, economics, medicine and chemistry.
  2. Leverage more resources. Generalists want to know enough about a lot. They depend on specialists to get them close enough to the answers. They don’t become the specialist, they leverage them.
  3. Give yourself some space. Because they know enough about a lot of things, generalists do a great job of identifying valuable links. They often discover that some of these things fit rather nicely together to form a solution. Space provides capacity for creativity – and creativity is necessary for forming valuable solutions that hadn’t previously existed.

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