Summary of The Neo-Generalist

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Business adviser Kenneth Mikkelsen and writer Richard Martin post a thought-provoking central theme: Appreciate the “generalists” on your staff and understand what they can do for your organization. Today’s corporate leaders tend to esteem “specialists” and banish generalists. The authors suggest taking a different path since “neo-generalists” can act as intermediaries among specialties, helping to cross-pollinate ideas and to keep the experts aware of the big picture. This lively, passionate book traces how generalism went out of style. Then, the authors profile several dozen modern, generalist Renaissance men and women in the arts, entrepreneurship, international development and education. getAbstract recommends this treatise to executives who are seeking to spark new ideas and nurture synergistic energy within and among their teams.

About the Authors

Kenneth Mikkelsen is a writer, business adviser and Peter Drucker Society associate; he co-founded the St. Martin’s School for underprivileged children in Cameroon. Freelance editor Richard Martin wrote the film noir study Means Streets and Raging Bulls.



“Generalists” vs. “Specialists”

In most institutions today, a staff member’s most important asset is specialized expertise. Businesses, government and educational institutions tend to view employees as cogs in a machine. They expect each person to perform a discrete function. To look after its finances, for instance, a company hires an accountant whose credentials demonstrate the necessary specialized expertise. If the accountant quits, the company picks a replacement with the same credentials.

An unfortunate side effect of specialization is the rise of internal silos that don’t communicate well with each other or may be in conflict. This segregation can lead to a crisis when a company faces a complex challenge that requires a multidisciplinary approach. Public institutions run into the same roadblock when they try to formulate policy on tangled, multidisciplinary issues such as climate change, population growth, energy use and health care.

Enter the “neo-generalists.” With their eclectic knowledge base, they can build bridges among silos and offer a “big picture” view of issues. The practice of medicine shows one way a combination of specialists...

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