Learn to “specialize” in being a generalist

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Professional Development
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There is a famous essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin, The Fox and the Hedgehog. In it he distinguished between authors who are “hedgehogs,” that is who see the world through one big idea, and “foxes,” who tend to see things through multiple lenses.

We can easily apply this idea to management and strategy. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against gaining special expertise and skill in a particular area of endeavour. However, being a “hedgehog” can become a problem if that is one’s only way of looking at things. To develop, we have to grow beyond parochial ways of doing and seeing things. Here are some tips on doing this.

  • Look for how your specialty has principles and methods in common with other areas.
  • Apply the methods of your specialty to problems in other spheres of endeavour.
  • Learn about the origins of your field, which usually show how it grew out of a common source.
  • Look at how your field’s methods are usually nothing but a specialized application of general problem-solving methods.
  • Look for projects and tasks outside your original field of expertise.
  • Find ways to lead multi-disciplinary teams and organizations.
  • Consider the points of view of people outside your discipline and how this would impact your decisions and actions.

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2014 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.


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