12 Apr 2023

The Straight Line Fallacy

We dive into: The 4 Archetypes of a Generalist, a framework for squiggly career progression, I'll then spin these into real-world examples of what a *delightful* generalist career flow could look like

And then... a pinch of spice 🌶️ I'll be busting the myth that generalists can't reach mastery

When NASA sends a rocket to the moon, what do you imagine that path looks like? Most would say it looks like the left side of the illustration - a perfectly straight line. After all, it takes a lot of resources, power, and fuel to propel a craft through the earth's atmosphere and land it on the moon. It's an audacious goal to say the least. Why would you opt for any unnecessary detours?

However, the ‘best’ path is not always the most obvious or practical at surface level. As this example illustrates, the path of a rocket from the earth to the moon presents more like the second half of the image - a jagged line, a series of corrections and continuations - and may look inefficient at first glance. But that is the reality.

The captain of the rocket ship, backed by a team of highly skilled NASA scientists, work 24/7 to navigate the ship, adapting to all the forces out in space ultimately resulting in a successful moon landing.

Enter the Generalist, who I posit makes the perfect rocket ship captain. The Captain's job is to have a thorough understanding of all aspects of the process while maintaining a constant eye on the north star or the goal of the mission. This is something that a Generalist does naturally. They recognize they don't need to know every detail of every operational procedure in every field of expertise that each of the NASA scientists are fluent in, yet the captain has faith in their team (of experts) and the instinctual feel for the overall progress of the mission.

They are comfortable operating in the unknown (who knows what space is going to throw at you?!). Chances are the captain has participated in the research and hiring of their team on the ground in Houston; thereby increasing their confidence even in the face of adversity, eg: going off course, and in their ability to make corrections that put the goal firmly in the line of sight.

Generalists observe and decode the multiple complex factors that can affect a situation. Their unique and varied skill sets allows for the discomfort of a non-linear creative process - which often involves "going off course" or exploring multiple paths and ideas. Generalists often exhibit empathy and the ability to acknowledge the different goals that people who make up an organization may have.

They understand and accept the tension and discord that can arise in a growth process and know how to steer it towards positive outcomes. Tension and discord can often be positive signs that point to what's not working in a given situation as well as being indicative of team members who are passionate about their input or contribution they believe will lead to success of the product or service. It takes a leader with a high EQ, or emotional quotient, to have patience and the ability to sit with discomfort, and find a way to move through it and/or use it to inform the next steps. Correct and continue.

In The Zoo Story, by Edward Albee, one of his characters wisely proclaims, "sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly..." I have yet to find a more apt metaphor for life, business or the creative process than this.

The fastest, most efficient, and most rewarding path from Point A to Point B is rarely, if ever, a straight line. And having a flexible, creative, resourceful and persistent leader at the helm can be the key to success.

Find brilliant generalist folks, learning, inspiration and opportunity at Generalist World

Guest author: Lee is an executive-level producer and content creator lending his superpowers to brands for creative development, strategy, campaign production and implementation for over twenty years.

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