Some people specialize in a narrow domain. They are called specialists because they focus on a specific area of expertise, and they build skills in that narrow area.
Rather than focus on breadth, they go for depth.
Others focus on the bigger picture or connecting the dots. Rather than focus on depth, they go for breadth.
Or do they?
It actually takes a lot of knowledge and depth to be effective at integration and “connecting the dots” in a meaningful way. It’s like being a skilled entrepreneur or a skilled business developer. Not just anybody who wants to generalize can be effective.
True integration specialists are great pattern matchers and have deep skills in putting things together to make a better whole.
I was reading the book Business Development: A Market-Oriented Perspective where Hans Eibe Sørensen introduces the concept of an Integrating Generalist and how they make the world go round.
I wrote a post about it on Sources of Insight:
Given the description, I’m not sure which is better, the Integration Specialist or the Integrating Generalist. The value of the Integrating Generalist is that it breathes new life into people that want to generalize so that they can put the bigger puzzle together. Rather than de-value generalists, this label puts a very special value on people that are able to fit things together.
In fact, the author claims that it’s Integrating Generalists that make the world go round.
Otherwise, there would be a lot of great pieces and parts, but nothing to bring them together into a cohesive whole.
Maybe that’s a good metaphor for the Integrating Generalist. While you certainly need all the parts of the car, you also need somebody to make sure that all the parts come together.
In my experience, Integration Generalists are able to help shape the vision, put the functions that matter in place, and make things happen.
I would say the most effective Program Managers I know do exactly that.
They are the Oil and the Glue for the team because they are able to glue everything together, and, at the same time, remove friction in the system and help people bring out their best, towards a cohesive whole.
It’s synergy in action, in more ways than one.