On being a curious generalist

How do we move forward into an uncertain world?

A curious generalist recognises that whatever their interests and various areas of expertise, they are moving forward into an unknown world. They develop ways of thinking about and acting in the world to ensure it is fit for future generations that transcend specialisms and single disciplines. The best way to do this is to work on the challenges and learn as we go. This blog shares reflections as I travel my own version of this journey.   

I think curious generalists are ready to challenge what they thought they knew, to retrain, to supplement knowledge in one area with knowledge from others, to be continuously learning. They recognise that things become interesting when you combine insights from multiple sources and disciplines. It is not for nothing that so many Nobel prize-winning scientists are also experts in artistic fields.   

Imagination is also cultivated by the curious generalist. It is, of course, a uniquely human characteristic yet one traditionally undervalued by mainstream education and society which preaches conformity and slave-like devotion to working hard for others’ benefit, trapped as we are in the largely extractive ‘techno-industrial economic complex’.

We dream. We imagine better ways of doing things, of alternatives both grounded in the practical and liberated in exotic flights of fancy.  The status quo, manifesting in the ways we do things as individuals, in our organisations and across society, is a weight pushing us down towards conformity that we actively resist through imagination of its alternatives. 

I am driven by a love of learning and a desire to combine ideas from different disciplines and perspectives to address the societal challenges of our day. I develop concepts that might offer new insights on long-standing and emerging issues and work collaboratively to test them out in practice. This professional and personal enquiry follows my thesis that the way we conceive of, organise and deliver responses to societies’ biggest challenges are no longer fit for purpose. We’ve prioritised the individual over the collective, humankind over nature, efficiency over effectiveness and richer places over poorer ones. We’ve compounded structural and geographical inequality locally, nationally and globally. 

I don’t think the extent to which society promotes and rewards individualism and competition is healthy nor a fundamental part of who we are as a species. I’m a ‘we’ person who believes in collaboration and cooperation and that shared challenges need collective responses. I think this is a central characteristic of the curious generalist.

My career hasn’t followed that path of steadily accumulating more and more knowledge and experience about a specific issue, field or context. I’ve always been lucky enough to follow my instincts and develop knowledge and experience that attract my interest and found myself in spaces where I can develop and test ideas. My personal journey has led me to seek settings in which I can contribute to a better world by improving and redesigning systems, processes and ways of doing things; at the heart of my approach is a desire to not settle for the status quo, but to actively seek opportunities for improvement. 

This blog captures some of my learning and insights. Expect musings and provocations on people, places, processes, policy, organisations and systems. There’s a lot here; here are a dozen articles I’m personally proud of:

Do reach out if you want to chat about any of the issues I write about or if you would like me to give a presentation, run a workshop with you and your team on any of these issues, or write an article for you.

Above all, keep exploring the opportunities for change 🙂

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