A general tour of Generalism…

When you’re setting up an Actionplanning session, and you want to draw people away from their day-to-day thinking so the brainstorming is more productive, I’ve always found it helps if you have lots of interesting distractions from other places to show people.

So, for instance, I’ll point you now in the direction of the ongoing Generalist vs. Specialist debate.

Essentially, if you’re a ‘Generalist’, you have an understanding across many areas, picking up and fusing inspirations from these places to help frame a specific strategy or problem.  You’re ‘well-rounded’, you define the goal.

A ‘Specialist’ is someone who works exclusively in one area with advanced understanding and capabilities in that area, and delivers a solution to the goal.  You’re an expert, you solve the problem.

Anyway, this image from Dave Gray, of visual thinking company XPLANE, perfectly describes the issue (and I found it first on Mark McGuinness’s brilliant synopsis of the Generalist/Specialist debate)


Thinking about the two stages of Actionplanning, you are seeking to get people acting as both Generalists AND Specialists. 

So, for the divergent thinking section, when you want people to stretch their brains as far as possible to explore pioneering solutions, you want people to be Generalists… “tap into lots of potentially exciting, different areas, but not in great depth.”

Then, once you’ve identified the most fertile areas, you get people to start working up more thorough, descriptive, fleshed out versions of what the solutions would be; they’re being Specialists… “design a precise solution based on this defined territory”.

It naturally follows that if you need people to be Generalists and Specialists in Actionplanning sessions, the best sessions you run will have a mix of Generalists and Specialists from around your agency.  Just like the best parties, you’ve got to invite the right mix of different people…