I have been reading the most fascinating book: Range – How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. As the title may suggest, the focus of the book, in broad terms, is that of considering the benefits (or not) of being a specialist versus a generalist.
It ought to be noted upfront, that there are tremendous benefits to both and I do not envisage ending the book with any kind of permanent shift in thinking, with regard to embracing one more than the other.
The read so far however, has confirmed that those professionals who wear the hats of both generalist and specialist ultimately are enabled to operate from a vantage point that provides a rather unique view.
Two experiences in my expert domain as an Occupational Therapist working in the litigation environment have alerted me (once more) to the importance of seeing beyond the borders of our chosen professional fields. And have highlighted how this journey inevitably routes back to add value to the work conducted in one’s specialist area in the most positive of ways.
Let me share the simplest story first.
One of the international business coaching clients with whom I work took the time a few weeks back to explain aspects of the environment that surrounds his specialist field and the various tasks of the role players alongside whom he works. This part of the discussion not only added value to ours around specific market positioning, but also provided a more in-depth understanding of the nuances of remote site construction work.
Not long after the above-mentioned interaction, I was involved in an expert incapacity assessment that required a combination of knowledge and understanding pertaining to the very type of environment my coaching client had taken the time to describe, albeit this assessment was within the context of determining the suitability and capability of the individual concerned to continue working with a deteriorating medical condition.
The insight with which I was able to engage and assess the person was significantly enhanced by the detour taken during this earlier discussion, which we could so easily have ‘skimmed over’ if we had been too rigidly focused on the specifics and the minutia of the topic at hand.
In other words, had the coaching focus remained narrow and not allowed space for some practical and geographical insights through a more general discussion, which provided more of an overview of the skills required in remote site work, important aspects of determining functional capability in such an environment may have been missed.
The second story is a bit more complex as it pertains to the use of specialised testing in the field of expert work; testing that requires intensive training and certification to administer.
It will suffice to note that in reviewing a series of reports completed via the use of these tests, the lack of context outside of the tests themselves was identified as a potential problem.
In this instance the narrowness of the test focus ran the risk of losing sight of the importance of the greater environment – a mistake that could easily and almost unknowingly, lead to inappropriate and even incorrect conclusions.
Therein lies the potential risk of interpreting test results in isolation of the appreciation of how they stack up in the overall picture. A picture that usually evolves when one steps into the realm of being more of a generalist.
Although I have not finished Range, and there may still be a discovery that does not fully align with my thinking or experiences, it is immensely refreshing to discover that the techniques I use to engage with the bigger picture in both coaching and expert work appear to have been endorsed.
The underlying reality is that, it is only when we choose to step outside of ourselves, and our selective domains, that we gain real insight into the true context of who we are, what we do in the world, and where our value lies.
This is as real in our personal lives as it is in our professional ones.
It is my opinion that in the active pursuit of being both a specialist and a generalist we live and enjoy life in the fullest way possible.