Superpowers of the Generalist

I got my PhD in a super-specific line of study, but now I actually prefer being a super-generalist. Don’t get me wrong; going deep academically is a beautiful thing, but it can be limiting.

Matt Might, a professor of Internal Medicine and Computer Science at the University of Alabama described the specialist’s dilemma beautifully in “The illustrated guide to a PhD.” (Give it a look. It’s good.)

Essentially, he shows how, while in-depth study in a single field can push the bounds of a very specific realm of knowledge, in the grand scheme of things it’s a very localized blip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’ve been there and I loved it.

But at heart, I’m a happy generalist.

Our current workload at Southpaw includes studies with bagel buyers, certified diabetes educators, surgeons in six countries, obsessed pet owners, and men 55 and older who’ve just been released from prison.

Yep, we’re generalists.

And that’s one of the things that I love about this field. I’ve always been lucky to work on a wide array of projects, rather than taking an in-house research job where the subject matter is more limited. Think surveys about toothpaste, focus groups about toothpaste, shop-alongs to buy toothpaste, deep ethnographic studies about toothpaste, etc. I would’ve been overcome with boredom.

At Southpaw, we’re content agnostics — experts in research, unfettered by a devotion to any particular category. Because of our wide-reaching experience, we are able to pull lessons and learnings from different projects, across a wide array of categories.

Recently, a university client who needed to communicate effectively with students about race and campus safety was surprised when I busted out a study we did on birth control. But they quickly saw that our experience talking to a young target audience about a sensitive topic could help them as well.

Our skills in interviewing, asking questions, and telling stories with data can translate across a lot of different client needs. And those are but a few of the superpowers of the generalist!

Want to talk about how our superpowers can help your business? Reach out.

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