The Plight of the Expert Generalist

By Paul Catterson – VP of Strategy – ZTransform

We’ve all heard the expression; “A Jack of all trades is a master of none…”

Undoubtedly, we’ve spoken the words ourselves as unsolicited advice to someone without a career specialty, recommending they establish one, or suffer the consequences. We’ve heard the phrase so many times in our lives that those words roll off our tongues without much consideration for how the phrase originated way back in 1721 and if it is in fact the complete phrase as coined. Spoiler alert: “A Jack of all trades is a master of none” is not the complete phrase. Enter the Expert Generalist.

The Expert Generalist is an individual whose motivation lies not in achieving the pinnacle of knowledge in a single domain, but rather in maintaining moderate, functional knowledge across a breadth of related – and sometimes seemingly unrelated – topics. Within an organization, they are that person who has knowledge an inch deep and a mile wide and likes to engage in all aspects of a project, from the technical to the operational to the financial. They say things out of turn and question the order of things. They try to break the mold and fix things that aren’t broken. And they aren’t fazed by asking the question everyone else is afraid to ask. And sometimes the Specialists don’t like them. I contend however; their role is as essential to a project’s success as that of any Specialist.

The Expert Generalist brings several unique values to various fields and organizations, often “stitching together” the expertise of others for the achievement of the greater good. Here are some key reasons why Expert Generalists are highly valuable and that you should consider putting one on your team:

Expert Generalists possess a wide range of knowledge across multiple domains. They have a strong understanding of various disciplines and can connect ideas, concepts, and methodologies from different areas. This breadth of knowledge allows them to approach problems from multiple perspectives, leading to more innovative and creative solutions.

Expert Generalists excel in adapting to new situations and contexts. They are comfortable with ambiguity and can quickly learn and assimilate new information. This adaptability enables them to tackle diverse challenges and switch between different tasks and roles more effectively.

Expert Generalists are excellent problem solvers. They can identify core issues, analyze complex problems, and develop strategic solutions. Their broad knowledge base enables them to draw upon diverse methodologies and approaches to find the most effective solutions, often thinking outside the box and bringing fresh perspectives.

The combination of their diverse knowledge and ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas makes Expert Generalists natural innovators. They can identify patterns and opportunities that may be overlooked by Specialists focused solely on their own domains.

Expert Generalists make considerate leaders and managers. Their broad understanding of different areas helps them navigate complex organizational landscapes and make informed decisions. They can effectively communicate with Specialists, motivate teams, and oversee projects that require cross-functional collaboration.

Expert Generalists have a passion for continuous learning. They are constantly seeking new knowledge and skills, which keeps them adaptable and up-to-date with evolving trends and developments. This thirst for learning allows them to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Overall, Expert Generalists make great project leaders and managers of high-performance teams full of Specialists. They can often bridge communication and skills gaps between different organizations, e.g., construction companies and television networks. This also goes for different stakeholders or roles with contrasting motivations for the same project, such as profits versus creativity.

And they are sure to know the other half of that iconic phrase;
“… but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

And, of course, they know many others as well.

If you need an Expert Generalist for your next project, keep ZTransform in mind. We have a group of them ready to support you

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Interested in working together? Give us a call on +1 206-829-8170 or send us a message.

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About ZTransform

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ZTransform provides planning, design, integration and launch services for the most sophisticated broadcast and media environments in the world. From the initial specifications development through to launch readiness and sustained operation, ZTransform manages the tactical and complex aspects of facility projects so that its customers can focus on what’s most important – their business.

For more than 18 years ZTransform has brought a disciplined project management approach, supporting its cross-industry clients, including AT&T Sports Net, News-Press & Gazette station group, KESQ, KEYT, KVIA, KEXP, Oregon State University, and numerous Fortune 100 companies; to complete technology deployments and operational improvements not previously thought possible.

Its skilled design engineers and operationally savvy experts know how to identify the real needs and present qualified, effective solutions to a multitude of seemingly unsolvable challenges.

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