Rise of the Expert Generalist

Enjoyed this profile of Charlie Munger on Medium, especially the description of the Expert Generalist, a rival to the 10,000 hour specialist:

The Rise Of The Expert-Generalist

The rival argument to the 10,000 hour rule is the expert-generalist approach. Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, who coined the term, describes the expert-generalist as:

“Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics., etc. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design:

  1. Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas.
  2. Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.”

The concept is commonly represented by this model of the “T-shaped individual”:


Information Graphics by Jeff McNeill

This is another presentation from Jeff McNeill (who brought you the Drucker and Goldratt Concept map).

This one is an introduction to Information Graphics, a topic I that has fascinated me ever since coming across Edward Tufte and recently stimulated by Dan Roam’s superb Back of the Napkin series of books on Visual Thinking.

Problem Solving 101


This little book is getting rave reviews, most notably from “Back of the Napkin” author Dan Roam who writes:

“A truly wonderful book has just hit the stands: Ken Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101. If you like The Back of the Napkin’s approach to looking at the world, you owe it to yourself to get this book.”

Problem Solving 101 – Official site

“Problem Solving 101” by Ken Watanabe – Amazon.com

How Social Networks Network Best

“One of the most important group decisions made by a bee colony is where to locate the hive. Bees use a kind of “idea market” to guide their discovery: The colony sends out a small number of scouts to survey the environment. Returning scouts that have found promising sites signal their discoveries with a vigorous dance, thus recruiting more scouts to the better sites. The cycle of exploration and signalling continues until so many scouts are signaling in favor of the best site that a tipping point is reached.

The bees’ decision making highlights both information discovery and information integration, two processes that are crucial to every organization but that have different requirements. A centralized structure works well for discovery, because the individual’s role is to find information and report it back. In contrast, a richly connected network works best for integration and decision making, because it allows the individual to hear everyone else’s opinion about the expected return from each of the alternatives. The bees’ process suggests that organizations that alternate as needed between the centralized structure and the richly connected network can shape information fl ow to optimize both discovery and integration.”

From: The HBR List 2009 – How Social Networks Network Best

If only we would let ourselves be dominated

In a thoughtful post entitled “Thoughts on the Financial Crisis“, Tim O’Reilly quotes a Rilke poem:

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming…What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

He explained the quote like this:

There are a lot of people bloviating about the financial crisis. It’s outside of our area of expertise, so there didn’t seem to be a lot of urgency to add to the hot air. Even professional economists and financial experts disagree on where this is going. I’ve been reading a lot, and sharing the best links via my twitter feed, but frankly, I’m feeling that we’re in the middle of a wave that no one completely understands.Meanwhile, I did in fact spend my NY Web Expo talk on the idea that “I sense a storm coming” (Rilke quote), and the idea that companies and individuals need robust strategies (ones that can work even in uncertain times), with one robust strategy being to “work on stuff that matters.”

In a letter to his own employees where he elaborates on this, he passes on some great advice that we can all heeded:

Many of you have no doubt been alarmed by the developments of the last couple of weeks in financial markets……robust strategies are ones you’d adopt in good times and in bad…we probably end up with more robust strategies if we assume the worst rather than the best.

We could be in for a long, rough time in the economy. I’m not going to say otherwise.

But I also want to point out that rough times are often the best times for creativity, opportunity and change.

…And if you look at history, you see that this has always and everywhere been true. It’s not an accident that economist Joseph Schumpeter talked about the “creative destruction” inherent in capitalism. Great problems are also great opportunities for those who know how to solve them. And looking ahead, I can see great opportunities.

The energy crisis (both global warming and the oil price shock) is helping people to focus on how technology can transform the energy sector. The financial crisis has demonstrated just how out-of-whack an unregulated, proprietary, black-box approach can get. This will lead to
an emphasis on regulation, but I hope, above all, on transparency. This is of course analogous to what happened with open source software. Meanwhile, the mobile revolution will continue, regardless of the state of the economy. If it can prosper in Africa, it can prosper even in an
American downturn. And all the stuff we’re exploring with Make: new materials, new approaches to manufacturing, and the “open source” approach applied to hardware, will take us in unexpected directions.  And all of these areas can benefit from what we do best: capturing and
spreading the knowledge of innovators.

We don’t know yet how problems in the overall economy will affect our business. But what we can do now are the things we ought to be doing anyway:

  • Work on stuff that matters: Assuming that the world does go to hell in a handbasket, what would we still want to be working on? What will people need to know? (Chances are good that they need to know these things in a world where we all continue to muddle along as well.)
  • Exert visionary leadership in our markets. In tough times, people look for inspiration and vision. The big ideas we care about will still matter, perhaps even more when people are looking for a way forward. (Remember how Web 2.0 gave hope and a story line to an
    industry struggling its way out of the dotcom bust.)
  • Be prudent in what we spend money on. Get rid of the “nice to do” things, and focus on the “must do” things to accelerate them.
    These are all things we should be doing every day anyway. Sometimes, though, a crisis can provide an unexpected gift, a reminder that nobody promised us tomorrow, so we need to make what we do today count.