Archives for posts with tag: generalist

I saw an article on the BBC website the day, about polymaths: people who are great at more than one thing, and how they can help the wider community solve bigger problems.

I didn’t read the whole article, obviously, because it was too damn long. But it roused in me a feeling that I’ve felt for a long time. There are no polymaths; it’s a myth to think there are.

At least as far as regular people like me are concerned, that is. A genuine polymath is one in a million, so why would the other 999,999 of us see this as something to aspire to, something we can achieve?

Maybe, back in the days of the Renaissance, there were genuine renaissance men and women who led their field in a bunch of fields. But back then, there were far fewer people with the access to some of those fields, never mind the time or ability to excel at them. The competitive pool was so much smaller. I don’t think some the examples in the article are genuine polymaths either. Just because a Nobel prize winner can play a few musical instruments or paint a bit, it doesn’t make her or him a polymath. It makes them something else, someone who draws on modest abilities in other fields to feed their main specialism.

This idea, that today the polymath is to all intents and purposes a myth, and possibly an unhelpful one, is one of several topics I touch on in a book I’ve written over the course of the last few years, and which is currently being designed and laid out by a proper professional.

The article’s worth having a look at. And hopefully, the book too.


We’re generally on the receiving end of irony. Things that end up being ironic are almost always not in our favour. Irony in business is the same. Commerce tends not to like irony. It likes to deal in good fortune and certainty where possible.

Towards the end of 2017 I finished the final draft of a book I’ve written on how we should deal with our lot in life and leisure if we’re generalists rather than specialists. People who can do a few things well, but are not standout in any one thing.

Since the end of 2017 I’ve been trying to find a agent to take on my project, get behind it and find a publishing deal. In other words, I’ve been trying to persuade a number of specialists that a book written about generalists is a worthwhile project.

The irony of this task is not lost on me. In fact it’s a constant companion. ‘If you’re only pretty good at a few things, why should I, who am great at this thing, take on a project, and why should readers read something, that is probably only pretty good, pretty well written?’

I’m going on holiday shortly for a couple of weeks, which necessitates having at least half a dozen blog posts ‘in the can’. Notwithstanding these literary guardians at the gate, I might publish a few pages of my book as posts, to see if I get any kind of a reaction.

These days it seems that the world is ruled and run by specialists, people dedicated to doing one thing really well.  As business and the world get more developed, and more sophisticated, you don’t seem to see the Renaissance Man any more, someone supremely gifted in two separate fields, maybe representing their country at two different sports, or being a well known ‘thesp’ and a pioneering doctor for example.  It’s just too hard these days.

This is great if you’re good at and really enjoy that one thing.  Your career and life choices become easier, even though you may suffer from career bottlenecks, glass ceilings or lack of a plan B.

But what about the generalists, where does this leave them?  Those that are good at most things, can turn their hand to pretty much anything, but don’t consider or are not considered by others to be a specialist.  For them the dreaded moniker ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ looms, whispered in the hallways or by the water cooler.

In my anecdotally-acquired view, generalists are more well rounded and better adjusted people.  They have more opinions, more dimensions to their character.  Put simply, they’re just nicer, better to have around and get on with.  The trouble for the generalist is that they don’t usually burn with a passion for that one thing.  Choices come harder to them and their natural inclination is to hedge their bets, seek diversity, spread the risk, and be good at a number of things rather than great at one.

Moreover, they’re probably better at their chosen job than the specialist.  And here’s why; they’re adaptable.  It turns out that adaptability is probably the most important skill when it comes to leadership.   And guess who’s best at being adaptable, at moving seamlessly from skill-set to skill-set, situation to situation?  The generalist of course, it’s what they’re wired to be.