Columbia University held the first Elites Research Network conference last week; the NY Times has a nice synopsis. Here’s my favorite part:

D. Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University… found… the biggest determining factor of whether someone moved into the elite was an early career opportunity.

Being able to look beyond their specialty early — as opposed to being highly specialized their entire career and then thrust into a leadership role — distinguished great leaders more than any inherent advantage in their upbringing, he said.

“These people had a chance to be a generalist early on, as opposed to being specialists their whole career,” Mr. Lindsay said. “They had that experience in their early 30s or 40s.”

I’m not sure if the experience in the last sentence refers to becoming a specialist (eventually), or if it refers to the eventual opportunity for a leadership role.  Regardless, this is a nice affirmation on the strategic value of generalists.

(ht Dan Pink)

The Generalist Strategy to Wealth