Culture 4 – Of Generalists and Experts

Sorry, I seem to have been interrupted in my plans for the next topic on culture and nations. While that was definitely underway, a strong thought took over my waking hours, convincing me that I had left a large uncut swath in the middle of the previous blog.

I had failed to accommodate the vast silent majority, the invisible middle. Those who do not conform to the extremes, but have some interesting quirks of their our own. Rest assured, there is a box circle to put you us in.

First, let me complete some thoughts about people who are not necessarily at the extremes of position, but more or less near the extremes of understanding. For suitable reference, the following arises from a very old ironic comparison (joke) that may still circulate in ivy-covered halls but itself deserves full disclosure. Here goes,

The Question

What is the difference between a Generalist and an Expert (or Specialist)?

Building off of the earlier sketches, a visual answer might resemble something like this,

Entry 85 - All There Is To Know - 4 Generalist - crop


“A Generalist knows less and less about more and more until he knows absolutely Nothing about Everything.”

The Expert takes a different approach,

Entry 85 - All There Is To Know - 5 Expert - crop


“An Expert (or Specialist) knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely Everything about Nothing.”

The visual, actually, helps throw some light on rather commonly associated cultural phenomena:

  • The Generalist is considered rather thin in understanding and thus often gets trampled on by his peers;
  • The Expert is often considered a stick in the mud who sets himself above everyone else.

(Ok, I admit that was a stretch).

Avoiding the extremes of position and understanding, where does that leave the rest of us?

Return with me now to the reality of All There Is To Know,

Entry 85 - All There Is To Know - 1 Circle Original

We’ve all probably figured out by now that there’s no way, even with all of our skills, gifts, and talents, that we’re going to be able to learn enough to become competent in just about everything. Certainly not as knowledgeable as those in the extremes in the earlier post think they are.

So, why not represent our competency and how much we’ve learned up to today by the following,

Entry 85 - What One Person Knows - 6 One Blob

This expresses what most of us know but wouldn’t really admit: we still have a lot to learn. But, if we make a commitment to learning something new every day, there could be rich rewards!

Then, somehow in life, we are confronted with another human being – someone we eventually marry, or a co-worker, a boss, or, heavens forbid, a subordinate!

Now things more resemble this,

Entry 85 - What Someone Else Knows - 7 Two Blobs

There’s stuff we have in common, and there’s stuff we don’t. If we are wise, we will let the Hunger Games© (of learning) begin.

Eventually, along comes another human being, a child, or another co-worker, different boss, and/or more subordinates. Now our interactions with others might look like this,

Entry 85 - What zEven Someone Else Knows - 8 Three Blobs

Some people find this daunting, and choose to live life as loners.

For the rest of us, we realize moving forward depends a lot on the relationships we learn how to develop and maintain (even though we still manage to mess things up once in a while).

In a marriage, we learn to grow together to find our cultural mean. Or else.

In a family, we team up in parenting in order to raise up to our cultural mean. Or else.

In clans and tribes, leaders encourage to the cultural mean, and members learn vicariously. Or else.

In an organization, we need multiple assets (employees are not ‘resources’) working together to accomplish goals and objectives. Some of these are one-to-one relationships we call ‘internal customers.’ Other interactions we call ‘teams,’ which often develop their own ‘culture’ within the larger culture. Teams are both molded from the top down and from the bottom up based upon the individual ‘cultures’ that members bring.

But in every case there’s still one last reality to deal with. Fundamental Principle 6,

Entry 85 - What zThe Missing Information Is - 3 Three Blobs

No matter how hard we try, there’s always Missing Information.

Which is why we need as many good to great relationships as possible, together with a life-long commitment to learning, to help fill in those knowledge gaps.

It helps build strong ‘cultures,’ from individuals through families, clans, tribes, organizations, to nations and civilizations.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 06: Incomplete Information, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 11: Growth, 16: Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.