What is a Comprehensivist?

A comprehensivist is a person who can connect the dots, who can see the bigger picture, who can look beyond their specific specialism and ‘see how it all joins up.’

And I've got a hunch that being a comprehensivist is going to be increasingly valuable given the accelerating pace of change in the world today.

It seems likely that an individual who retains the capacity to connect the evidence from a wide variety of sources and piece together what it all might mean for the future, will be more successful than someone who dedicates their life to becoming an expert in a particular niche.

Let us consider the animal kingdom for a second:

Over long periods of time, organisms with an adaptation that conferred beneficial life support became increasingly populous. This is all fine when the environment is changing slowly.

However, we can observe many examples where over-specialisation has been a disaster for organisms. For when their environments changed and their adaptations were no longer so advantageous, they dwindled in numbers and in some cases even ended up becoming extinct.

Dinosaurs, pandas, sabre-toothed tigers...

This characteristic of specialisation is particularly relevant in an environment which is changing very rapidly, such as the one in which we find ourselves today.

There certainly was a time where an individual could become skilled at a specific operation and remain valuable for the duration of their working life as a result of this particular skill. We don't have to go too far back in history to consider the case of a blacksmith who was an expert at making horseshoes, or to look at the technician who devoted her life to becoming expert at manufacturing vinyl in a Record-producing plant.

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that we will return to situation where humans can remain in a single career for the duration of their lives, and therefore it seems sensible to conclude that training people up to become specialists is probably not going to serve them adequately over the duration of their professional lives.

I further conject that deliberately cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset will be an effective strategy in preparing people for lifelong success.

The entrepreneur is usually a comprehensivist because they have to be!

Steve Jobs, who led Apple from the tech sidelines to global preeminence stated in his Stanford graduation address that his signal skill over the years has been his ability to connect the dots: to look at what everyone else was looking at, but to see something different.

Buckminster Fuller, who coined the term 'comprehensivist' saw himself as a comprehensive, anticipatoty design scientist.

Which basically means that he:

'looked at the whole picture rather than a part of it, tried to guess where everything was going and used his science skills to design something that people would spontaneously begin to use'

For more about Buckminster Fuller, get his book 'Critical Path.' It's not an easy read, but it's well worth the struggle. He nails it.

So that's I mean when I say I'm a comprehensivist. I'm pretty good at quite a few things, and I don't need to worry about being a 'jack of all trades, and master of none'

because these days, being a jack of all trades is probably a lot more useful...