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The advantages of being a generalist in modern business

  • September 16 2020
10 minutes to read

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2020’s uncertainty has inspired business managers all over the world to adapt to rapid change and to #KeepLearning. Adopting a generalist approach to modern business management can help you stay prepared for unexpected challenges (such as the COVID-19 pandemic), and help you make better business decisions when they occur. So, if you’re wondering “what is a generalist”, read below as we unpack the concept and the advantages of being a generalist in today’s uncertain business environment.

Seeing the bigger picture

The value of a generalist lies in their ability to see the business as a whole: an intricate system of interconnected, interdependent moving parts. This gives the general manager a broad understanding of what can benefit the entire business, which enables informed decision-making as far as the organisation is concerned. Hence, if an issue arises that involves shifting the direction of the company, a general manager is well-equipped to think laterally and creatively when deciding the optimal path forward. This type of innovative, critical thinking is often instilled when studying a business management course.

Navigating uncertainty

Even when it comes to single areas of expertise, it has been shown that generalists can even be more accurate in predicting outcomes in that particular area – making them very capable when it comes to navigating uncertainty and responding to a changing environment. Prof Philip Tetlock’s research, spanning over 20 years, found that a generalist’s approach is very effective in forecasting the future, even when compared with specialists.

Analysis of the 80,000+ forecasts found that experts are less accurate predictors than non-experts in their area of expertise.

[Source: Harvard Business Review – ‘All hail the generalist’]

Career flexibility

An MBA in South Africa is an invaluable credential for any general manager, and is widely regarded as the world’s most desired business degree. In fact, the MBA is so highly acclaimed around the globe that the Association of MBAs (AMBA) calls it an “internationally recognised passport to a successful management career”. But will the ultimate business qualification truly guarantee that you will thrive anywhere?

AMBA found that almost three quarters (74%) of MBA graduates believe they have been able to develop all the business-related skills they wanted as a result of completing the qualification. Furthermore, AMBA’s findings showed that:

  • The largest proportions of MBA graduates find business management jobs within six months of completing an MBA. Significantly, almost two-thirds of all participants said they were either in the job they wanted before starting their MBA while studying or within six months of completing the qualification.
  • The most popular reasons for completing an MBA are, ‘to acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’ (cited by 70% of graduate survey respondents); ‘to expand my area of expertise’ (67%); and ‘to get a broader understanding of how business should be managed’ (50%).
  • 71% of graduates were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the impact their MBA has had on their careers to date.
  • 68% of MBA graduates see themselves as being more confident on the completion of their MBA, and 62% perceive themselves to be better at solving problems. A further 58% thought they were better prepared to operate in highly competitive environments, and 56% believed themselves to be better at dealing with people in a professional capacity.

[Source: Association of MBAs – ‘MBA graduates thrive in terms of career progress in spite of global uncertainty, new AMBA & BGA research reveals‘]

Transferable skills

Generalists offer so much more than the “jack-of-all-trades” concept of modern business. These individuals’ skill sets equip them to be easily transferable into specialist streams in any industry.

Generalists tend to have more transferable skills that set them up for success to be leaders and managers. Research shows that both employees and employers believe a more generalist skill set is often required in order to advance to senior positions within a company.

[Source: mba.com – ‘Why It’s Better to Be a Career Generalist in the Long Run’]

In addition to a world-class Generalist MBA, the MBA programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) has three specialist streams that can be chosen in the second year. These streams will help graduates tailor their generalist skills (developed in year-one) to an industry of their choice.

MBA students can lead professionally in the healthcare industry through the MBA in Health Care Leadership stream (MBA HCL). They could opt for the stream in Managing International Organisations (MBA MIO), which will help them thrive in complex global institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO). USB’s new-for-2021 MBA stream in Project Management (MBA PM) will enable them to become proficient in both business leadership and the scarce skill of project management.

If you are interested in how to market yourself as a generalist, or becoming an elite general manager and responsible leader, apply for your master’s in business management in South Africa at USB today.

Blended Learning is now offered on all our programmes.

There is no need to travel to campus until it is safe to do so.

Find out more

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