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  • Writer's pictureDean Williamson

Finding neo-generalism

I came across the term neo-generalist on a friend’s website. My first thought was the Matrix, but instead of jumping to conclusions about my friend and his eccentric thoughts, I kept reading… And all I could think about was “This is me! This is me!”. It’s like someone took everything I was thinking and gave me a job title, except that it wasn’t a title in the traditional sense, it was a ‘way’ or a ‘movement’ or whatever you’d like to call it. It was a summary of my thinking and the way I approached things.

cartoon of a brainstorm

If you haven’t heard of a neo-generalist, I encourage you to read more about it! Without tooting our own horns, we have a unique skill set of combing specialist skills with general jack-of-all-trades knowledge to do some pretty cool stuff. We’re ok with uncertainty, and in fact are huge believers that, while we may have goals, the best results/knowledge/outcomes come from what we all experience along the way. We use a mish-mash of specialist skills and experience, and adapt our thinking, to best suite whatever problem we’re facing.

We don’t tend to like labels, or concrete structures (figuratively speaking). We’re all about the flex, adaptation and relationships.

It’s not just people who fail, or a system that isn’t working – it’s usually a combination of both. And understanding your employees and their needs, systems, processes and human-centred design are all important factors in helping any organisation with their culture, development and workplace goals.

Throughout my career, I’ve always felt different to many of my colleagues. I’ve always felt like organisations have too much drama or red tape, or I got frustrated because I could see solutions that no one else could. For example, in one organisation I worked for, there was a very flat structure, which meant once people got to an ‘officer’ level, there was no promotion, so they left – we were losing good people! We were restructuring, so I gave my advice on creating ‘employment pathways’. Providing people with the right training, development and support to journey through the organisation, creating flexible job descriptions and breaking down sectional silos, so people could start working across different teams. It would give them opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and take on new challenges as appropriate throughout their career.

The answer I got was “But we have a fixed budget – we can’t change people’s job descriptions as and when we like.” It was that moment that I knew I was in the wrong world (i.e. the conformist world). Because my immediate response was, “but why not?” – and that was the neo-generalist speaking. We didn’t need the labels, and the sectors, and the concrete walls for the organisation to function correctly – we needed people that could evolve, that were valued and could grow with the organisation, being specialists and generalists across different teams or projects, as and when needed.

It wasn’t until years and years later, that I realised I was a neo-generalist by nature, and what I was trying to do in that organisation was encourage neo-generalism. And of course, now, I’ve embraced my specialist generalist nature, and with Dean, who was that friend who initially introduced me to the term, we’re helping organisations improve, and grow, to not just increase their bottom line, but produce good people who are fostered to do good things (in whatever interpretation you want that to take).

Neo-generalist and proud.

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