THE ADVENTURES OF A GENERALIST
Birds of a feather flock together.
Like seeks like.
You are known by the company you keep.
How do sayings like these burn themselves into our brains? It helps that they’re short and pithy, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. Perhaps a statement like “birds of a feather” has power because it’s true. And what truth lies beneath the cliches above? It matters who your friends are.
There’s plenty of science to back this up. A number of studies expand on the concept of homophily (coming from the Greek for “love of what’s similar”). Study after study shows that we seek out, consciously or subconsciously, people who are like us. And even when we differ from those around us, we start to mold our actions to be more like them. The people we spend our time with will influence our opinions, speech, music preferences, and even our health.
All these studies point in one direction: the people around you literally help shape you into the person you are, and the person you will be tomorrow.
It really does matter who your friends are.
Looking at how a person spends their time will tell you a lot about that person. If I spend my evenings on hiking trails and in softball leagues, you would call me an athlete. If I get home from work most days and sit down at the piano for several hours of practice, you would call me a musician. If I head to the mountains every weekend with skis strapped to the top of my car, you would describe me as an avid skier.
But what if I do all of these things? What if I spend my evenings and weekends doing all sorts of activities that don’t have very much in common? What would you call me in that case?
You can call me a generalist.
A Generalist Fits Everything Into a Day’s Work
At TGG, we’re generalists. Our consultants come from different backgrounds: some come from healthcare or finance, others come straight from the military or academia. My own background includes a 6 year chunk of time in the seminary. Every consultant at TGG has a unique background, and we bring these backgrounds to our work, no matter the client or industry.
TGG also houses a diverse set of perspectives and approaches to business environments. We aren’t just project managers or data analysts; we do these things with a holistic perspective, one that spans industries, business cycles, and clients.
Here’s an example. A client in healthcare might hire us to perform the work of a business analyst, collecting requirements and mapping processes for a new service offering. The person we place, however, is never just a business analyst. We provide someone who also has experience in change management or project delivery. The client benefits from having a generalist instead of a specialist, because the result (such as requirements gathering, in our example) is better tailored toward successful delivery. We perform work within context, bringing together lessons we have learned in a variety of environments to maximize the value of our present work.
Generalists excel in all environments without having to master them. At TGG, we cultivate individuals who can thrive in ambiguity, rather than in any one particular familiar system. And the way we spend our time after the work day has a big effect on how we do that well.
A Generalist Networks Broadly
You can tell a generalist by the shape of their calendar. As a case study, let’s take a quick look at mine.
Over the past few weeks, my calendar shows a rather adventurous exploration of topics. This is the story of a generalist. Outside of working hours, I’ve had a number of networking events crammed into the margins. Here are a few examples:
A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on artificial intelligence in medicine. My colleagues and I have recently been working on articulating the impact of AI on the future of business, and were excited for the chance to reflect on advances in AI and machine learning in the healthcare industry.
A week later, you could find me drinking coffee with change managers and discussing ways to use change management as a tool to better serve strategic planning by business leaders. Consultants in our People Practice have recently been synthesizing varying perspectives on change management to identify the key phases and activities that all good change management engagements must include (look out for a thought leadership piece on our blog soon!). This was a great chance for us to carry this conversation into a community of change management practitioners.
A few days after that, I spent my evening at a talk by Kevin Ciccotti on the topic of how good leadership inspires good work. After Kevin finished speaking, I sat at a table with professional mentors, small business leaders, product owners, and project managers and discussed how we could put Kevin’s words into practice in our various industries and positions. Conversations like this spill into all the work that I do as a TGG consultant.
Two days later, I swung by an early morning roundtable discussion on project management in manufacturing environments. Everyone in the room had experience leading projects, and we went around the room for an hour asking questions and sharing advice about how to make projects better. At TGG we recently created an internal bank of resources to help our consultants who are managing projects; roundtable discussions like these are a good way for us to test drive our resources with a group of experienced practitioners.
Artificial intelligence. Change management. Strategic planning. Reflecting on Leadership. Project management. Why all these different things in one month? Because that’s just what we do at TGG. We specialize in quickly immersing ourselves into new contexts, bringing in a new perspective that adds value to the system.
Our time inside and outside of the work day is an adventure. We get to learn about a hundred different topics and thrill at the chance to make connections between them. This enables us to bring a broad, integrated perspective to our work.
At TGG our success comes from schedules like mine. It matters who you talk to. As generalists we talk to everyone. Spending our time like this helps to form us–speaking with such a wide array of professionals and therefore, helps shape who we are.
Interested in learning more about the life of a generalist? Check out this book on the subject. Want to hear more about how our generalist approach benefits our clients? Check out a couple case studies of how we successfully bring a broad perspective to our clients’ challenges.