To say that “the future belongs to generalists” betrays an unfortunate truth of modern technological development and scientific inquiry. We have reached a point of dichotomy where the frontiers of research have become the domain of super-specialists. Just publishing a paper now requires extensive understanding of very in-depth phenomena, rather than the type of brilliantly simple science of the superstars that we now look up to such as Maxwell, Bohr, Flemming, and Snow.
However, invention is beginning to slow. Society has matured, and some argue that American society is becoming decadent and repetitive. Marques Brownlee asks if we’ve reached “peak car” in his video. And ultimately, this article continues this discussion. While reaching the peak is not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that the past few decades represent a transition to innovation.
Innovation is the domain of generalists, Mansharamani summarizes, in an insightful metaphor:
Breadth of perspective and the ability to connect the proverbial dots (the domain of generalists) is likely to be as important as depth of expertise and the ability to generate dots (the domain of specialists).
[. . .]
The skill of generating dots is losing value. The key skill of the future is, well, not quite a skill; it’s an approach, a philosophy, and way of thinking — and it’s critical you adopt it as soon as you’re able.Vikram Mansharamani
However, there is a lot of nuance involved that precludes a simple black and white understanding. Science will continue to require ever-increasing expertise to remain at the forefront. Even in medicine, healthcare of specific diagnoses is now relegated to specialists.
While the idea of specialization certainly exists in every field, it is especially evident in medicine with the drastic rise in specialists required to treat patients. In fact, I’ve written extensively about the topic. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that an adequate solution exists other than better collaboration and a renewed focus on primary care.
We may take a page from history and embrace the ideals of the “Renaissance Man.” Britannica explains that the “gifted men of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts.” Perhaps this is the way forward.
“Harvard lecturer: ‘No specific skill will get you ahead in the future’—but this ‘way of thinking’ will,” by Vikram Mansharamani, June 15, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/15/harvard-yale-researcher-future-success-is-not-a-specific-skill-its-a-type-of-thinking.html
“Jack of All Trades,” by Sahil Nawab, May 31, 2019. http://www.sahilnawab.com/blog/jack-of-all-trades/