Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

This is a post about education, personal development, and why you should be a generalist.

Tiger Woods was trained almost from the cradle for one thing–to be the greatest golfer.

Roger Federer tried many sports. He loved soccer. Even though his mother was a tennis teacher, he didn’t pick up tennis until his early teens. Other kids had been playing for years by then. He soon passed them by and into his thirties is a dominant tennis star.

You need to be good at something, but it is good to be interested and experienced in many things.

Range by Epstein

I have a book to recommend. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. This book will help you learn to live a fuller life–and help you bring up your kids and encourage your grandkids.

Life in the industrial age, as well as in some previous eras, was composed of patterns. You could be trained to recognize patterns and adapt and become skilled at them. These are called “kind” learning environments. Kids excel who see and repeat the patterns.

Life today is what a psychologist call a “wicked” learning environment. Here, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns, and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both. In most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.

So, let’s look at responding to today’s “wicked” learning environment. “The bigger the picture, the more unique the potential human contribution. Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly.” This all sounds great. But what about what I read in the news as the “typical Trump voter” who is a worker trained in the old way watching his job being replaced. And who is the leader who is poised to take them to this next level? Well, no one. Just leaders who play to their fears.

There are some courageous leaders changing the system for educating young people so that they can thrive in this new environment. We just have to have more of that. More people guiding young people—and older people, as well—need to take into practice this advice from psychologist and creativity researcher Dean Keith Simoton, “Rather than obsessively focusing on a narrow topic, creative achievers tend to have broad interests.” Modern work demands knowledge transfer—the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different demands. In my life I have worked with both highly educated engineers AND high-school-educated technicians who exhibit  this. More must be encouraged.

For those who, like me, studied broadly as an undergraduate and didn’t care much about grades, take this observation from professor and researcher James Flynn who was “bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. Flynn, “The traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.

Here is a tip for those who teach at any level. When asking a student a question, force them to answer, even if it is wrong. Then just force them to answer again. And again. Until they get it right. Giving them hints to guide a correct answer quickly provided fewer long-term results than the first method. “Repetition is less important than struggle.”

Oh, and in a test of forecasting, experts were far worse than “amateurs” getting it right!

How does one adapt? By reading widely. Pursue several interests. That will be the human triumph in an age of robots.

Personal Brand Building with Digital Transformation–Emerson Exchange

Personal Brand Building with Digital Transformation–Emerson Exchange

Emerson Global User Exchange brings thousands of geeks together to, well, exchange ideas. Most relate to technology and its applications. Some relate to personal growth and development. So far, I’ve captured the growing importance of Digital Transformation—both Emerson helping customers achieve their own, as well as, Emerson’s own transformation. We talked personal development with Dave Imming’s presentation on giving presentations. Then we discussed the Edge, Industrial Internet of Things, and connections. Today, I’m reporting on a presentation by Jim Cahill (for years he was called “Chief Blogger”) and Adam Thompson.

Personal Brand Building with Digital Transformation

The “Digital Transformation” part of the presentation was partly a reference back to the conference theme. But, the presenters also did a bit of compare and contrast of the older analog way of building personal connections and the newer digital way.

Cahill and Thompson told us that first we need to become an expert on some topic. How do we accomplish that? Well, the traditional way included reading books, attending classes, researching, attending conferences, reading trade magazines. Those between analog and digital might watch TV, also read books, scan social media,read blogs [maybe like mine…], attend conferences, read trade magazines, watch TED Talks. The digital people are on Netflix, YouTube, and social media, they watch TED Talks, are active on Emerson 365.

Next you must build your network. We traditionally do things such as trade business cards, attend conferences/events, reach out to authors, reach out to internal contacts, join groups. Moving on, you might make use of online groups such as Emerson 365 and LinkedIn groups both reading and contributing. Use hashtags both in your posts and searches.

Finally, you’ll want to share your expertise. Take the initiative. Present in company meetings. Find relevant conferences and construct presentations (see Dave Imming’s ideas). Share ideas and knowledge with press and influencers [we like input]. A great activity is to participate on industry standards committees or, if you are a programmer, contribute to an open source project. Write white papers.

Building a personal brand will help you and your company and often the community, as well.

Personal Brand Building with Digital Transformation–Emerson Exchange

Presentation Skills for Career Success–Emerson Exchange

Presentations abound at Emerson Global Users Exchange. Attendees can choose to take deep technical dives into Emerson products, get overviews and trends of technology and the industry, and even personal development. Yes, there was even a 6 am fitness time with either running or Yoga.

Where’s “The Edge”? Yes, you can use good presentation skills for career success. Building Your Personal Brand through Digital Transformation–or social media an networking. Here’s a recap of the 2019 Emerson Global Users Exchange based upon several sessions I attended led by people I’ve known for a long time–Dave Imming, Mike Boudreaux, and Jim Cahill.

Presentation Skills for Career Success

Dave Imming, VP for QC at Emerson presented (well) about making good presentations as essential for career success.

First off–It’s important. Even in your first years as an engineer, you may be presenting ideas to management or even presenting at conferences. These help you become recognized and show your knowledge and ambition.

There are three steps to developing and presenting.

First, you must create a story. I’d emphasize even in a technical presentation making it flow. As you create your story, first you must determine the objective of the presentation. What are you trying to convey? Note: do this with pen and paper. Don’t create slides, yet. Next determine your audience. You must have a clear idea of whom your are talking to. The presentation will be different for your engineering team and for management. Hint: don’t create slides, yet. Now, determine your Key Points. [When I prepare, I use PostIt Notes so I can arrange them easily. Hint: stay away from the computer and don’t create slides, yet. Now you can construct your Story Line. How are you going to develop your ideas. [This is where I arrange and rearrange the PostIt Notes.] Oh, yes, don’t create slides, yet. You can research the Rule of 3 or 7 basic plot lines to help. Now Outline  and still don’t create slides. FINALLY create your slides. Do not use text heavy or dense charts. Text should be 30 point. Find interesting and illustrative pictures with maybe a few words superimposed.

Refine and Rehearse—Do this verbally, aloud, several times. First with yourself several times, then to a friend

Stand and deliver—Most important is to have confidence, even while experiencing normal nervousness. Preparation breeds confidence. If you know the key points per slide-especially the first few to get into the groove-then your confidence will grow. Move with intention, do not pace like a caged animal. Make eye contact with one audience member at a time and hold for at least 5 seconds. That establishes connection with the audience.

School versus Learning

School versus Learning

More than 50% of the science and electronics that I know are self-taught. In fact, all of the electronics that I know I learned on my own. It formed the foundation of my career. Perhaps half of the math I know came the same way. And everything about computers.

I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with schools and education. Public education is important for the building of a democratic society. But so much of the regimentation of schools is off-putting to me. I had 17 years of formal education and the thought of finishing a Ph.D. in the field I was in ceased to be appealing (International Politics–engineering is much better).

Schools, including universities, need to teach reading, written/oral communication, thinking. Maybe throw in creativity. Memorizing all the subject matter stuff—well, that’s important, too, but not so much if you can’t do the other stuff.

Seth Godin recently addressed this idea. And he takes my idea to a whole different level. That’s what he does.

He writes:

For the longest time, school has been organized around subjects. Fifth graders go to math class and then English class and then geography.

Mostly, those classes don’t teach what they say they teach. Sure, there are some facts, but mostly it’s the methods of instruction that are on offer. School usually has a different flavor than learning.

There was a story about a boy in school staring out the window. The teacher asked, “Little boy, what are you doing?”

“Thinking,” he answered.

“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to think in school,” replied the teacher before realizing the joke in what was said.

Godin continues:

Perhaps, instead of organizing school around data acquisition and regurgitation, we could identify what the skills are and separate them out, teaching domain knowledge in conjunctionwith the skill, not the other way around.

It turns out that the typical school spends most of its time on just one of those skills (obedience through comportment and regurgitation).

What would happen if we taught each skill separately?

Obedience
Management
Leadership/cooperation
Problem-solving
Mindfulness
Creativity
Analysis

When I teach people to be soccer referees, it’s only a little about the Laws of the Game. Mostly it’s looking and being professional, making decisions, handling people, managing a game. These are sometimes called “soft skills.” I beg to differ (my favorite phrase in high school!). These are “hard” skills. Hard to learn, hard to master, essential for maturity.

School versus Learning

Playbook from a Trillion Dollar Coach

There is an equally critical factor for success in companies: Teams that act as communities, integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what’s good for the company. Research shows that when people feel like they are part of a supportive community at work, they are more engaged with their jobs and more productive.

Thus begins the book that you should read next. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Playbook from Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle. (The three authors were senior leaders at Google / Alphabet–and coached by Bill.)

Bill Campbell’s journey took him from head football coach at Columbia University, to the top sales and marketing job at Apple, to CEO of a couple of technology companies (Intuit and GO). Then he became a coach. He coached Steve Jobs at Apple. The three leaders and then many more at Google. And more than 80 other Silicon Valley CEOs and leaders. And his middle school football team that he coached at the same time.

He was most likely the most influential and respected man in Silicon Valley.

And his values and teaching are appropriate to all of us no matter the organization we’re with.

For example, he let everyone know his blocked time for coaching his football team of 13- and 14-year-olds. He wouldn’t answer his phone if you tried calling. One person, though, would ignore the time and call. Bill would pull his phone out of his pocket and look at the caller ID. The kids around him would look, also. They would see the name Steve Jobs, and then see Bill decline the call. They all knew that when Bill was with them, he was with them.

Read this book–and put the principles into practice in your life. You may not be building the next Google. But you can be the determining influence in someone’s life.

School versus Learning

Exercise the Curiosity Muscle for Personal Success

A team developing a Web application named itself Curious George team. You know, the mischievous monkey who was adopted by The Man in the Yellow Hat. Curiosity defined its personality.

I thought, “How cool is that?” A constant reminder to work that particular muscle.

Ever notice little kids? Maybe from 1-1/2 to 4 or so? Take a walk with them. They are curious about everything. They’ll stop and study a leaf. Or a bug. Or a worm.

What about us? When we take a walk, do we puzzle over things we see?

What are you curious about? What would you like to learn?

What a great name for a team exploring new business ideas. Or expanded service ideas.

“I’m on the Curious George team. We’re always exploring for new ideas.”

That’s cool.

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