The Generalist

As the blast of raw energy brings forth into life a new being that crawls into existence and stares at the face of its maker, it has but one question: what am I? Who am I? And at such a moment the maker steps forth onto the ledge and peers down the abyss, suddenly coming to the realization that those questions need answering, but all that comes to his mind at that point is more questions… Such is the experience of the founder of a startup after going through the process of customer discovery, much akin to the experience Viktor Frankenstein experienced upon seeing his Creature.

But to the founder’s aid comes the Generalist. After creating a product and finding customers for that product, a founder finds that he must now build a company that can create, distribute and sell that product to scale. The challenge is then how to do those things and, as Steve Blank says: a startup is not a miniature version of a large company. The Generalist, then, is a person who has the qualities of an inventor and an explorer. Much like the elite parachute divisions of modern armies, the Generalist gets thrown into action wherever he is needed: sales, marketing, human resources, finance, operations or general management.

What, then, are the character traits and tools of the trade of a Generalist?

In terms of character traits, the generalist thrives in chaos and knows how to do battle with it. Within minutes of encountering a situation, the generalist will have a pretty good idea of the structure of a problem. The generalist also loves to experiment and be very interested in the causal relationships that drive problems that need to be solved. In addition, the generalist has an insatiable desire for knowledge about the startup in general: its product, strategy, operations, finance, HR, etc.

As for the tools of the trade, a generalist knows a bit about everything without wanting to be placed into a neatly-defined role. This person will know about the things listed below but will be an expert at curating the sources that will enable him or her to learn the necessary skills quickly:

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