Why would a specialist want to be a generalist?

After the moderators hauled the last load of verifications in the third week of December, I finally got a chance to look at the class profile of PGPX 8 batch for 2013-14. Although privacy issues do not permit discussing class profile at this stage, this article would still be of interest to prospective students of PGPX, the most sought after one year programme in the country.

My first glance at the class profile generated a silent question in my mind – Why would a specialist want to be a generalist? The class profile emitted the themes of diversity, broad knowledge base, exposure to multiple disciplines and specializations with a lot of breadth. But after going through individual profiles, I was on tenterhooks to dissect the generalist v/s specialist conundrum.

Thankfully a knowledge transfer session organized by the outgoing batch was around the corner and I got a chance to volley my conundrum to the ‘immortals’ – a person who survives the onslaught of PGPX rigor is undoubtedly an immortal. To get a broader perspective on the subject I tried to speak to a diversified sample of ‘immortals’ on what value addition they feel a general management program like PGPX provides to people of specialist domains. There was one particular response which stood out and left a lasting impression on my mind.

This ‘immortal’ from X7 made his point by citing the proverb “To a man with only a hammer, every problem looks pretty much like a nail”. He went on to explain that the man who has various tools will turn out to be functionally far superior than the man with a hammer tendency. He made sense but I had a follow up question – How can a ‘specialist’ overcome the hammer tendency and achieve worldly wisdom through this program (read PGPX)?


His response to my follow up was a classy ‘cover drive’. He stated the matter concisely – for a specialist attaining a worldly wisdom is an ongoing process of, first, acquiring significant concepts – the models – from many areas of knowledge and second learning to recognize patters of similarity among them. The first is a matter of educating yourself and the second is a matter of learning to think and see things differently. He was candid in acknowledging that acquiring knowledge of many disciplines may seem a daunting task. But he was equally straightforward in stating that the aim must be to acquire deep rooted knowledge of fundamentals as opposed to becoming an expert in every field. A combination of PGPX curriculum and talent in the batch ensures you learn the fundamentals principles – the big ideas and learn them so well that they are with you always.

So as I take the first step on a pathway towards a goal of flexible thinking and broadening my knowledge base derived from exposure to multiple disciplines, I look forward to understanding the truly big ideas of each discipline and then connecting them back to my specialist domain. I hope to be back on this post after a year to testify on this conundrum from my own personal experience.

Image courtesy: http://www.sitepoint.com/specialist-vs-generalist-who-wins/ http://agcoauto.com/ http://robindickinson.com/

4 Replies to “Why would a specialist want to be a generalist?”

  1. Well said Sumanth, You set me pondering when I read this note the first time, I am still pondering on this conundrum! I am sure the answer lies in “duality”!?! Not that “duality”, but really duality in matter, in life is intrinsic. So is duality of purpose I believe. I will counter this with another blog 😛

  2. Good on you to capture in words what has been swimming around in my head for some time now Sumanth! Looking forward to your post after an year of this madness we are growing to love hour by every hour!

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