Level Up Generalists to Polymaths

TL:DR | Rising from the century of the specialist, are the waves of generalists that the world encompasses. We live in a time of great change, and adaptation is needed. Only the generalists and hyperspecialists will be able to keep up.


4 min read
Level Up Generalists to Polymaths
“Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains. Our most fundamental thought processes have changed to accommodate increasing complexity and the need to derive new patterns rather than rely only on familiar ones. ― David Epstein

How does it fit into the Multidisciplinary Spectrum?

Generalists are the middle of the ground on the Spectrum. Which means they are the glue that holds it all together.

While Multipotentialites and Polymaths are the opposite ends, with Specialist off to the side. It is the Generalists that binds them all together.

In the rise of the Internet Renaissance, Generalists are going to THRIVE in this time.


Why level up from Generalist to Polymath? How?

Some people see them as synonyms, or even that polymath is outdated. Although when it comes to the definition of the words, and the application of knowledge that isn't true.

The best way to distinct them is to look at the scale of knowledge areas, and how deep you are in each:

  • Jacks/Jills of all trades = Novice or some skill in around a dozen areas.
  • Generalists = Medium skill in 4-8 areas, with maybe one specialty (i.e. T-shaped).
  • Polymaths = Deep area of knowledge/expert in 3 or more areas; With any number of additional novice or medium skills.

This isn't for saying that any term is "better" than another, and in fact I have a huge amount of respect for those on all levels of the Multidisciplinary Spectrum.

It is just simply the next logical step for many Generalists out there, and what they can evolve into. It is an exciting concept!


Generalists Adapt to Wicked Problems

They say at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, that it is theorized the reason why Homo-sapiens evolved is because of generalists. The reason being is that our species was able to adapt to new environments or stimuli because of these interdisciplinary type of people.

“In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.”― David Epstein

We desperately need this type of adaptation again. While the world is going through a plethora of problems, it is the generalists and polymaths who are going to carry us through it.


The Generalist IS the Proto-Polymath

While some may disagree, to me this is clear as day. I would consider myself a generalist, despite having expert level understanding in some areas.

However this is all about the journey of becoming a polymath. While we are on this journey we are the prototype of the polymath version of ourselves.

By the end of our lives we will become that polymath version of us.

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