🌀The Generalist Value Pyramid

How to *think and speak* about your squiggly skillset

Hi folks! Today’s deep dive will help you think & speak about your generalist value with clarity and confidence. I welcome you to screenshot your fave bits & share them on LinkedIn (tag @generalistworld so I can say hi!) If you like, you can read / share the online version ❤️ 

🌀 “What is a generalist?”

I’ve been asked this question hundreds, maybe thousands of times, since starting Generalist World in May 2022 (from my kitchen on a little, rural, Scottish island).

You’ve heard the usual musings…

  • a jack of all trades

  • someone with a broad skillset

  • someone with a meandering path

In honesty, they never sat well with me. They didn’t encapsulate the height of the talent that I was bearing witness to in the GW Community.

Welcoming 600+ generalists into our community has given me more golden insights than I could shake a stick at. In this essay, I’ll try to summarise what I’ve learned.

⚡️ PS: at the end of this email, I’ll let you know about a new way to get hired. No CV’s. No job description. Totally anonymously (aka: no bias). Pretty exciting, hey?

🌀 Let’s begin with: can a generalist have a speciality?

It sounds like an oxymoron — defining a singular label for a generalist with diverse knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences. So, let’s start with a question:

Can a generalist have a speciality?

In my opinion, and with a resounding agreeance from the community Yes. Absolutely, generalists can have specialities. Robert said it best: “with time, you can definitely build mastery in specialized areas”.

So, if being a generalist simply isn’t not being a specialist, then… what makes someone a generalist?

My best explanation to date is what I’m calling: the Generalist Value Pyramid.

There are three essential parts of the generalist DNA. To be clear, in this context, I’m speaking about the kind of generalists I work closely with. Very high-calibre. High-performing. Producing high-value work.

I am not speaking about someone who knows a little about a lot. This is the biggest reframe I think we, as a society, need to get clear on.

Generalists are not mediocre. They are not unfocused. I know this because I’ve lost count of the number of folks in our community with PhDs, or who run multi-million dollar companies, or who drive meaningful innovation and positive change in our world.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change

- Albert Einstein

🌀 The Generalist Value Pyramid

I believe there are 3 key features of high-calibre generalists, and they intersect and complement each other. Let’s dig into each:

💪 The Foundation: Broad Expertise

A deliberate cultivation of skills and knowledge across multiple fields. This layer emphasizes not just a superficial acquaintance, but a meaningful depth that enables unique insights from one discipline to another.

Your broad expertise lends itself to you being a lifelong learner, and savvy at applying this knowledge in real-world scenarios of varied, sometimes seemingly disparate, domains.

This diversity in skill sets allows for more creative problem-solving and the ability to adapt — huge assets for a world of work which is changing what feels like every quarter.

🤍 The Heart: The Generalist Mindset

Though harder to measure, this is an undeniable measure of a great generalist: the little sparkle of magic you seem to bring to every single job. A surefire sign? Your colleagues and bosses can’t quite put their finger on it. They just know you’re an incredible asset to their organisation.

Characterized by your unique approach to thinking and problem-solving. This includes the ability to spot patterns in disparate data, simplify complex scenarios, envision the larger system at play, and apply creative thinking to develop innovative solutions.

You’re often known as the ‘go-to’ person for anything ambiguous. Even without direct experience, you have a reputation for instinctively finding a way forward, or for wrangling the best people together, to figure it out.

Generalists excel in environments of uncertainty and complexity because they can draw on a broad base of knowledge to see connections that others might miss, and they have an innately unique approach to connect these dots.

⛰️ The Apex: High Emotional and Social Intelligence

This is why generalists make incredible leaders, c-suite execs, founders and CEO’s. Your high EQ means you lead, communicate, and collaborate better than most.

You’re likely highly empathetic, have a knack for building strong relationships, and find that influencing positive outcomes in team and organizational settings comes as second nature.

It’s your strong interpersonal skills that tie everything so beautifully together. You don’t just have diverse expertise. You don’t just have a knack for solving problems and being a ‘fixer’. You aren’t just empathetic and a great leader.

You’re all of these things, combined. And that combination has tangible, inexplicable value to an organisation.

🤸 Which leap will you take?

But like any framework, this is totally useless unless you can put it into practice.

So — what career leap will you take this year? Landing your dream job? Launching a fractional career? Eyeing up the C-Suite? Hoping for a pay raise?

Whatever it may be, before you dive into it, take a step back and consider:

  1. Leaning IN: Instead of framing your expertise as a jack-of-all-trades, position yourself as someone who intentionally and expertly merges distinct skills to create unique value.

    For a job search, pinpoint industry pain points that your combination of skills directly addresses. When eyeing a promotion, articulate a recent problem you solved by applying an unconventional mix of skills, emphasizing the innovation and cross-functional collaboration it sparked.

    This market is not the time to be humble. Document your impact, and then shout it from the rooftops.

  2. Leveraging the things that make you YOU: Use your ability to spot trends and patterns as a secret weapon. In interviews or performance evaluations, don't just talk about problems you've solved; discuss how you anticipated challenges before they became apparent to others.

    Illustrate your thought process with a compelling case study where your foresight led to preemptive action — maybe you saved $X or created new opportunities. This showcases not just problem-solving, but strategic anticipation—making you invaluable for forward-thinking roles.

  3. Your high EQ is a tangible asset: How many cover letters say they’re a team player? Exactly…….. Describe a situation where you navigated complex team dynamics to turn a project around, focusing on the specific emotional cues you picked up and acted on.

    Highlight how this ability to read between the lines and manage emotions can be a game-changer in high-stakes negotiations or when leading cross-disciplinary teams. Make it clear that your EQ isn't just about getting along with others—it's about leading with insight and precision.

  4. Craft a personal learning ecosystem: Show how you actively build environments that foster learning. Keep tabs on how you curate your learning experiences, combining courses, mentorship, professional communities, and side projects to continuously raise your ceiling.

    Especially if this is something that comes naturally to you, having this up your sleeve could be a real difference to helping you stand out, by showcasing your initiative and commitment to staying ahead of the curve.

  5. Reframing networking: Rethink networking as a chore to being a habit of strategic alliance-building. The secret sauce? Less is more. It’s not about building a stadium of people who barely know your name.

    But a campfire of folks who will put their neck out for you; as you would do for them. They’ll make that warm intro. They’ll write a thoughtful recommendation. They’ll be the first person commenting on your post when you’re panicking about finally posting on socials.

You are a generalist. And when you can communicate the value you bring — you’re unstoppable.

As always, I’m cheering for you!

Founder & CEO of Generalist World

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