The generalist specialist

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with startups lately. I love their energy and sometimes “simple” view of the world, in which everything is possible. In a way they are correct, and I’m probably getting old(er). I’ve been coaching startups to help them organize and prioritize their projects and ideas. This is all very fascinating but here is what strikes me. I see myself as a generalist, but they see me as a specialist.

There are a very wide range of items I’m interested in, from design, programming, music, architecture, painting, literature, cooking… If I considering myself to be a generalist, I also believe I know some stuff about those domains, but I don’t consider myself to a specialist. I presume that people who earn a living in one of these domains, will be better informed, and more professional than me… but apparently this is often not the case. This makes me very smart, let’s say a genius, but I know that’s not the case 😉

I’ve noticed over the past 5 years, that nobody takes the time to really understand anything anymore. We get some high level info about a topic, which gives us a partial and distorted understanding of the topic, which we use to construct our logic on.

In my professional field of software and project management, there are less and less people that have a good understanding of the business processes of their customers. Enterprise architecture (EA) is often seen as a technical decision, completely separated from the business logic. Everything is divided into generic micro-services for reusability, which is good from a EA standpoint, but which can be a disaster from a business logic point of view, making applications overly complex and too dependent on reusable components.
We’ve reached a point where we stop looking for a solution if we don’t find an answer after a few hours; where a software developer changes from platform and technology every year. How can you become a specialist if you only have been using a tool for a few months? They do it because this way they are in demand, and they can ask a higher price. But it doesn’t deliver a better end result, in my opinion.

So as a generalist, who understands how things work, and takes the time to understand stuff, I go further and deeper into complex problems, and turn out to be a more specialized person than you’d expect.
Startups need flexibility in concept thinking and problem solving, and than the expertise to quickly execute the developed concepts. Business logic and business insight are way more important than a discussion about the technology landscape.

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