Why Are Generalists and C Students So Successful at Work?

Successful at Work

Let’s face it, predictors of professional success can sometimes sound a little…predictable. How breakthrough is it to argue that copious natural talent, gifted intellect, or unlimited funds to spend on training is touted as a quick route to career acclaim?

So it’s refreshing to read studies that investigate more surprising predictors of what makes you successful at work. This week’s links include two thoughtful pieces on some unanticipated upsides to NOT specializing in a narrow career niche, and how (and why) those who are “average” students in school can end up excelling in the workplace.

We round out the links with a primer on how to master change (even dramatic personal change), being less knock-kneed when you’re up in front of your next audience, and an in-depth look at the business of relaxing. Take a look.

The Upside of Being a Utility Infielder

Are you a specialist or a generalist? And which one has the bigger claim to career success?

Specialization may be having its day in the press, but best selling author and syndicated columnist Michael Simmons argues that the edge may go to the generalists who read widely across disciplines and industries.

In “The One Trait That Elon Musk, Ben Franklin, and Marie Curie Have In Common” he investigates the characteristics of some of the world’s most successful generalists and offers six strategies for how the rest of us can reap the same benefits by exploring new areas and making our own connections.

This isn’t a lightweight listicle — these are mini case-studies with real heft. Through them, he demonstrates that the perks of interdisciplinary thinking can work for anybody.

The Upside of Being a C Student

A similar philosophy appears in author Benjamin Hardy’s take on how average students can end up thriving. In “10 Reasons Why C Students Are More Successful After Graduation” he argues that earning A’s in school and excelling in a “factory approach” to learning can make a person, well…average.

For one thing, C students know they can’t go it alone and need to have a team of talented people who can compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Find out what other benefits are conferred on those who never made Honor Roll. Whether you did or not, his observations are good food for thought on what mindsets and attributes set us up for success.

Embracing Complex Change

How confidently do you approach change? Linda Brimm reports that, in her experience as a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, even managers adept at organizational change can stumble when faced with personal transitions.

In her article “How to Embrace Complex Change” for Harvard Business Review, Brimm offers a comprehensive framework for how to navigate what she calls “The Seven C’s” of personal change. She’s road-tested it with students and clients, and the article is peppered with details of real-life examples.

As a bonus, it ends with an assessment that’s as intriguing as the article itself: Is it Time to Rethink Your Career? Click at your own risk.

Acing the Speech

For those of us who aren’t naturals up at the podium, public speaking can be a minefield plagued by everything from humdrum topics to trembling voices. To help us out, Entrepreneur magazine senior writer Kim Lachance Shandrow presents an infographic that she cheerfully calls “courage-building.”

It’s packed with the collective wisdom of professional speechmakers of the London Speaker Bureau, which is pedigree enough to slow down and take a long look. “9 Steps to Help You Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking” helps with everything from powerful intros to power poses, and — when absolutely necessary — how best to read from hand-held notes.

It’s something you’ll clip and pull out to reference before the next quarterly all-hands — or to slip into the pocket of a teammate or boss.

Vacation Headspace

And finally, for those of you trying to get some relaxation in before Labor Day, we leave you with “The Higher Life”: a long-form piece by columnist Lizzie Widdicombe for The New Yorker that profiles mindfulness guru Andy Puddicombe, the voice behind the iPhone meditation app Headspace.

More than a personal piece on Puddicombe, who trained as a Buddhist monk before launching his best-selling app, Widdicombe maps how “mindfulness” is trending in Fortune 500 companies, and posits why digital mindfulness is not an oxymoron.

Best of all, embedded in the article is a Soundcloud clip narrated by Puddicombe called “A Meditation for Commuters” which is so soothing that it probably should come with a Warning: Do Not Use While Operating Machinery (or Sending Important Emails) advisory.