I just finished reading ”The Neo-Generalist” a new book written by my friend Kenneth Mikkelsen and his co-author Richard Martin. I have to admit that it took me a while. It wasn’t that kind of a book, you feel like you have to finish as soon as you have started reading it. This one clearly needed more pondering, more breaks in between the reading spans. During my reading of ”The Neo-Generalist” I also read several other books at the same time, namely Joshua Cooper Ramo’s ”The Age of the Unthinkable” and ”Seventh Sense” and re-read Arthur Koestler’s ”The Act of Creation”. That turned out to be quite a refreshing combination and helped to reflect my thoughts also in a sense what Neo-generalist might mean in practical terms and in my life.
According to Kenneth and Richard, Neo-generalists are persons living in a state of perpetual beta, they seem to always look like becoming. They serve as a bridge and a catalyst, never quite having a sense of belonging, but still being able to affect change and establish cooperative relationships with real impact. Very promising indeed but the decisive question is: Do they possses the desirable and useful ”Seventh Sense”?
After finishing the book I felt a bit mixed up wondering what was the purpose of the book… The authors indicate that the book is an opening of discussion and they hope it will further support to build understanding about this type of personalities and life-style. And it’s true, that unfortunately in many cases the magnificient value which these Neo-generalist can bring to communities, companies and societies is highly undervalued. This can also lead to personal doubt in their respective minds and often worsen the feeling of ”not belonging”. Living in many worlds at the same time can be stressing, but seemingly also very productive.
I sincerely like the way how the idea for the book emerged, it is in many ways a serendipitous journey. The authors had some common intrests, ”the mutual appreciation of online articles and curated content lead to connection on social platforms”, as they describe it. But the final spark was ignited when these gentlemen participated in a conference in Paris and went together wandering in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Somehow the setting, the landscape and – I would say the ambience perhaps – cemented their commitment. I believe that when something is meant to happen, it will, like in this case to find a great pair of authors..
So for me an ideal Neo-generalist is a Jester of all Trades – and unfortunately that is the role which is missing almost in all organizations in this world!
The content for the book was elaborated by interviewing ”an array of boundary-crossing people who continuously jump back and worth across the specialist – generalist continuum.” This job of interviewing close to fifty people was certainly a challenging effort, drawing conclusions from such a diversity of material probably even more burdensome. For a reader like myself, the similarity (note: not the diversity) of the interviewed people was a big surprise. Many of the interviewed people were born in multicultural families, they have lived since childhood in many countries and have acquired high-class and in many cases multidisciplinary education. On top of that they have experienced different careers and are constantly on move. One could argue that they are close to ’super-humans’ by nature. So, this kind of mental image started to bother me – is that kind of background the prerequisite to become Neo-Generalist, I hope surely not!
Coming back to the question of ”Seventh Sense” and the notion in the title of this blog ”The Jester of all Trades”, how to make some sense here…. Being a Neo-generalist, and certainly even I find similarities with those people interviewed for the book, is one classifification, although again a dilemma, because according to authors Neo-generalists hate to be categorized by any means. Ramo is explaining in his brilliant book seventh sense being like an intuition, a feeling – or a sense to understand how the interconnectivity and the power of networks will impact all the areas of our society and therefore also our business and ourselves as families and as individuals. And my conclusion is that Neo-generalists might be better prepared, they might already posses this magical seventh sense, so they should use it for the benefit of many. People with seventh sense even have, according to Ramo, the eagerness to disrupt old equilibriums, because they are confident that something better will emerge. But do our Neo-generalists have that kind of drive, or is their weak ”sense of belonging” making them prone to leave instead of fighting for the purpose. Could the lack of commitment be the weak spot that Neo-generalists are suffering?
What about the Jester of all Trades then? Well, I suppose it’s so far my final conclusion – the diamond produced by the pressure of mental work. Koestler’s ”The Act of Creation” (published 1958!) has many years been a ”bible” of creativity to me. He is illustrating and explaining the various elements of creativity in such a marvellous way, that there is no comparision for that. His threefold classification of Jester-Sage-Artist is opening up the deepest of secrets about how creativity can be supported and harnessed, and for me Neo-generalists look like people wandering between all these roles. It’s just my personal preference that I like the role of Jester the most amusing, filled with a lot of laugh, wit and pun – and yet equipped with sharp and ingenious mind. So for me an ideal Neo-generalist is a Jester of all Trades – and unfortunately that is the role which is missing almost in all organizations in this world!
And remember: ”Not all those who wander are lost”! (J.R.R. Tolkien)