Creative generalists rock the tesseract!

Lately I’ve been to some funerals and also lots of births in the form of kids’ birthday parties. At both ends of the curve there are a number of recurring questions but today really looking at just two.

One of the best questions ever is, “What are you going to do when your grow up?” I especially like it when it’s a kid asking the question and I always take that as a compliment.

The honest answer is always made up on the spot and and is usually along the lines of I’m still working that out—depending on who is asking.  After nearly 50 years I have a pretty good idea of where to focus but I still adore the exploration and rediscovery of old and new ideas and their application to the present. (I’m ENFP or ENFJ)

I feel very lucky to still have an open end on most of my work/life and to be able to re-imagine the future. It seems really obvious but there is a huge difference between conscious knowledge and intelligence. Some of this comes with age, learning style and a desire to want to keep learning and growing which sadly we all sometimes neglect.

In my world view boxes are for things not people, and so while it is good to be able to see some connections it is always better to be able to really think outside the cube and even go really fractal when you need to. Forget the box and the cube, everyday is a tesseract of opportunities.

If we stay awake, and take some notes like keeping a journal for example, we will continue to discover new and exciting ways and means to develop. The life as a mystery box idea appeals to me and I was interested to hear JJ Abrams talk about this on a TED video which you can view over there.

The other question people always ask in various ways is “What do you do for a Job?” My usual answer for the past few years has been “whatever I want to do” and yes I do have the experience and skills to do a wide range of activities quite well.

However there is always a reality checklist close by especially when the car breaks down or some other bill looms large. So the dream always remains but sometimes often there are work projects we all need to do a) pay for the groceries and; b) pay for the dreams.

But I really like the in between time/s when I can work on thinking and planning for a cornucopia of projects and my natural inclination is to gravitate towards the creative end of the spectrum even though much of my “education” was designed to minimize those abilities.

By the way, I’ve found a new word to partly describe my general learning style and also explains why I can seemingly link a series of invisible dots—“all this stuff is connected” as Chris Anderson mentions in his 2002 Vision for TED video. Multi disciplinary views of space and time just suit me because I’m polychronic.

Plans: from Time Management Basics The polychronic person will use plans but is quite happy to be flexible in their approach to achieve the desired goal. They may flit from project to project as the mood takes them gaining inspiration from one project to utilise on the other. Flexibility is a useful trait of the polychronic person.

Finally an answer as to why I’m happy reading five books at once as well as listening to and watching lots of videos on apparently unrelated topics. My brain still enjoys the buzz and it knows what a fractal of a fractal is even if it takes me a while to catch up and articulate that stimulus into a series of useful questions for a client.

So the new answer to the perennial “What do you do?” question is that I’m a polychronic creative generalist (and divergent thinking maven) so chances are good that if you have a great project I can help at some level.

For more on the creative generalist go to Steve Hardy’s wonderful blog which is a real treasure trove of ideas. For example this recent link gives some great examples of the creative generalist concept by Larry Borsato:

I am not trying to suggest that generalists are perfect. If you are building banking software or you are launching a space shuttle, where well-defined processes are essentially repeated over and over in the building of the software, then specialists may be preferred.

However, in the Web 2.0 world we live in, where new products and APIs are introduced seemingly every other week, specialization loses its allure.

Six months of experience on a particular platform might turn a generalist into a de facto specialist. At the same time, a generalist brings a variety of hard and soft skills to the task at hand. They often have the ability to quickly assimilate a new technology or skill, and may be able to quickly accomplish tasks in unfamiliar situations.

And, from what I’ve seen in the past few years working with the Web, everything is an unfamiliar situation.

Snap—dude … I am also an entreprenerial marketer, product developer, planning consultant, researcher and more. On any given day I can be writing a marketing plan, developing a website to go with the brand and talking with CEO’s about their industry strategies and/or enterprise level software to go with with their orders as well. Great to hear from creative generalists as well like OddPodz.

Equally I’m at home brainstorming with other mavens and turning the metaphorical map upside down with a sprinkle of physics, architecture and whatever other discipline I may be absorbing at that time.

Lifelong learning is not just a bright idea, it’s a way of life. Somehow it all works out because the challenges along the way help cross pollinate the answers on other projects present and future.

There is a wonderful story that Jim Collins tells about writing down observations on himself in a little notebook “about the bug called Jim.” You can listen to the bio story over here. (11 minutes)

His description of an entrepreneur as someone who is “congenetically coded with the defect that they can’t work for other people … entrepreneurship is a life idea … starting with a blank canvas … carving your own path and figuring out how to do that in a unique way … ”

And overall the joy of the question is something that keeps me revisiting his website and books. I’ve also learned over many years that if I listen to audio that somehow works better for me personally—which is why I'll sometimes listen to TED videos in the background while I'm working on something else entirely.

Finally part of the reason for this post is that I having been making the equivalent of video mix tapes by combining and mashing/recombining some of the 80 video clips from my “creative commons” TED collection.

Off to a conference tomorrow today and inevitably will be asked by many the work question. I’d much rather they ask the first one about what am I going to do when I grow up—but then you'd expect a creative generalist to have that kind of answer.

Other related posts on this blog that you may enjoy.