Newsletters Index:

« Back to Newsletters

Specialists and Generalists

#73 - 11/30/-0001

"What nature needed man to be was adaptive"
- R. Buckminster Fuller,
author, inventor, and futurist (1895-1983)

Buckminster Fuller, the great inventor, philosopher and futurist, drew a distinction between the brain and the mind. Specializing is a function of the brain which must solve problems as they arise - special cases, as he put it. The mind, however, is where generalists live - finding connections across disciplinary boundaries and making humans adaptable to many circumstances. He descried the emphasis on specialization in our modern world - driven mainly by business. Fuller urged people to stay flexible enough to become generalists - as all children are. "Dare to be naive," he said.

The toughest thing to do, sometimes, is to get back up when you've been knocked down. Despite the positive economic reports from Washington and Wall Street, many people are struggling – career specialties are being outsourced, and secure, high-paying jobs are scarce. It takes creativity, imagination and an optimistic nature to survive in times like these. Two other qualities are essential to anyone who must adapt to rapidly changing circumstances: a wide, general perspective, and a childlike curiosity.

Artists, writers and actors are forced to become generalists. "They are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time" as Hamlet says, so they must constantly be alert to shifts in the wind – adapting, responding and testing the ground ahead in order to survive. Actors for instance, must study and learn the language of many different disciplines in order to play a wide range of roles. Becoming versatile with many different tools builds their confidence.

Failure to understand general principles can sometimes lead to disaster. I was once hired to do a television commercial for Foster Grant Sunglasses. This was back in the mid-seventies when James Bond was all the rage, so I was playing a glamourous spy driving a nifty little sports car with a gorgeous, scantily-clad girl cuddled next to me in the passenger seat. Nice work, huh? We were being chased by the 'bad guys' from Ray Ban who had blown out a bridge ahead of us. The script said we should rev the sports car up and jump across the blown bridge.

The producers hired a stunt driver (thank God for the right specialist at the right time) and they bought an old jalopy to test the jump. The jalopy flew the distance fine, graceful as a cement block. It landed with a thud that sprang open the trunk, hood and both doors, but it rolled away undamaged. Now it was time for the sports car, a neat little Lotus Elan that seemed airborne just sitting in the parking lot. With only twenty-five miles on the speedometer and heavily insured, the white, wedge-shaped convertible raced down the road and hit the takeoff ramp at the prescribed 55 mph. Halfway across, the nose dropped and on the descent it caught the landing ramp, flipped in the air and landed on its roof.

The car, which was made of fiberglass over a plywood frame, flew to flinders. We all held our breath while the crew rushed forward and flipped the wreck over. There was nothing left but the wheels, chassis, engine and seats. The driver had slumped over onto the mannequin riding in the girl's seat and emerged with only a broken finger. He was taken immediately to a nearby bar for first and second aid. Fortunately, the director had the foresight to fake the landing ahead of time - filming the car driving away safely on the far side of the bridge - and they were able to cut a commercial together.

In retrospect, the accident was obvious. The wedge-shape of the sports car was aerodynamically designed to force the nose down so it would hold the road on tight curves. It was a specialist. The jalopy had all the aerodynamics of a milk cow, but that allowed it to obey the laws of physics in a simple, uncomplicated way. Of the two vehicles, the jalopy was naive, closer to the least common denominator and therefore more adaptable.

The lesson for speakers? Beware of separating yourself from people with special language, superior learning or high-hat attitudes. Jargon, acronyms, "inside" information, pulling rank, showing off your credentials – all these "special" aspects of your knowledge, education or experience may alienate you from your audience. Be sure to meet them on neutral ground by sharing your simple humanity.


A Thought to Ponder
A Workshop With Coach Mike

"All the world's a stage . . ." and some of us are woefully under-rehearsed! Shakespeare was right, we each play many parts in our time. For business people the roles usually take place in an office or boardroom - small, one-on-one performances - to sell something. And occasionally, big, bravura roles on the speaker's platform with everything on the line require a more heroic performance. How are your reviews? Is there any part of your performance, your presentation - large or small, that you wish was better? Why not take a day to work on it? Presentation is a skill, after all, and we can always improve a skill - all you need is the desire, a bit of time, and a good coach.

Which roles would you like to work on? Marketing? How's your elevator speech? Sales? Can you make your pitch warmer? More compelling? Leadership? How do your employees see you? Can you improve that relationship? Your PowerPoint presentation? Are you losing the battle with the screen? Maybe you just want to get over your nervousness? These are just a few of dozens of personal performance problems you could work on - if only there were a workshop somewhere.

Good news! Give me a call and we'll put together just such a workshop. If you have a group of presenters who want to ramp up their skills I'll be happy to come in and make that happen. You'll be surprised at how much fun it is! This could be a great opportunity to put your presentation skills into rehab. You'll have a chance to work with a world-class coach in a professional environment, for a full day of learning, practice and growth.

We'll work on your voice, posture, gestures, facial expression, and movement. We'll put you on video and help you overcome stage fright. And because we'll limit the class size to no more than eight people, you'll have plenty of face time with the coach. Then, we'll follow up to make sure you keep applying the things you learn.

You'll come away with new skills, more confidence and a brighter attitude toward your presentations.