Saturday, March 6, 2021

Interdisciplinarian - Generalists with a Specialism!

  The digital talent should all be generalists with a specialism!

At the Industrial Age with silo and considerably static knowledge, businesses value specialization so much that they don't set up systems to consistently facilitate specialists meeting cross-discipline with other specialists to gain multidisciplinary understanding. However, the digital era is hyper connected and interdependent, continuously expanding the knowledge horizon becomes more strategic and tactical for mastering professional skills and building transferable capabilities. It comes to the brainstorming of the industrial vs. digital era and specialists versus generalists debates, and gains the new perspective upon developing high professionals to get digital ready.

Functional oriented “silo” encourages specialists: Traditional organizations are often inside out, operation driven. For quite some time, due to the process driven, functional oriented “silo” nature of industrial organization, businesses have been fostering a belief that 'people should become a specialist on one thing to a level in which they can be the 'best of the best.' Because the world is increasingly complex and fast-changing the need for specialization is likely to increase. Society encourages such thinking at the young age, it’s also been encouraged in businesses for quite a while. However, when many specialists work on their own without empathetic understanding and communication, silos are created, functional gaps enlarge and they end up cobbling together a business organization of disparate, but hopefully aligned toward some common business vision and objectives.

Specialists have a tendency to think that the business as a whole is a sum of pieces so it might cause gaps or disconnections. With hyper connected and interdependent digital new normal, greater specialization does not need to lead to silo working, there are other organizational options such as cross-functional collaboration because today’s business is always on and digital technology empowered, the Subject Matter Experts and the technique professionals aspire to excel in their respective roles and grow in professional stature, specialists can collaborate with cross functional managers and communicate with other specialists to co solve ever complex business problems effectively.

Holistic management needs generalists: Holistic management implies that the business as a whole is superior to the sum of pieces. A functional silo is supposed to have a specific strategic goal, and that is actually okay to improve business productivity. Actually most organizations elevate a specialist, and that is what they feel most comfortable with. However, to bridge the gaps, someone above the silo is supposed to glue all the individual puzzle pieces together so business generalists are in demand to have a big picture in mind so the business can focus on strategic goals rather than just functional objectives.

In reality, silos self-perpetuate because that is the business culture we consciously encourage individuals to pursue. So organizations hope they actually have generalists who rise up and can interface effectively with all the specialists. They have a clear vision, update rules, a set of strategic goals, prioritization and facilitation skills to enforce cross functional conversations and cross functional collaboration. They develop the best and next practices to advocate holistic management.

Specialized generalists: The problem is that, to be a good generalist, you need quite some knowledge of quite some fields. A generalist still has a specialism. You may be knowledgeable about a lot of subjects, but there will always be something you're really good at. Specialized generalists are in demand to broaden viewpoints and deepen the domain knowledge for insightful problem solving. They usually have unique strengths and create specialism that others don't have. They will be asked to give advice as soon as the "specialists" have come up with something which looks good from a very close distance but misses the general problem because he/she is just a specialist.

In today's business dynamic, a forethought leader who wants to have their ideas and that technical expertise shared and implemented into projects needs to be a specialized generalist who has “T-shaped” skills, business acumen, and the ability to motivate and communicate effectively. They are the people that stand outside the political hierarchy of the changing area, understanding the mechanisms of change and human behavior as well as providing appropriate measures for facilitating change.

The digital talent should all be generalists with a specialism! Either generalist or specialist, interdisciplinary skills are crucial and expert power has the foundation of in-depth knowledge, profound insight, and abstract wisdom, to connect the minds and win the hearts, to drive transformative changes.


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