Personal growth Finding your path Knowing where to start


How can you future-proof yourself in a VUCA landscape and booming freelance economy? Take a closer look at the skills, tools and adaptations that make up your unique offering. In a complex world, not being a specialist can actually be a great advantage. Dot-connector Duane Holland explores why you should embrace your interdisciplinarianism (try saying that one fast).

20 February 2023 • 4 min read

Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
~ Steve Jobs, 1995

Freelancing offers much more than just flexibility, choice and money. It’s about experimentation. By breaking away from rigid organisational systems and departmental structures, people have the opportunity to blend talents, interests and curiosity like never before.

As we move into recovery mode and the freelance economy booms, a sub-culture of talent that have been misunderstood for so long are becoming invaluable in the great reset. A subset of deep thinkers who intuitively blur knowledge, blend disciplines, borrow styles and break rules.

Here come the Neo-Generalists.


In Geoff Pilkington’s ‘The Rise of the Neo-Generalist’, he defines these interdisciplinarians as people who have knowledge about multiple realms and ideas in lots of different areas.

They sit between a ‘specialist’ and a ‘generalist’. On one hand, they are dot-connectors, but with many more dots to connect than a specialist. Yet on the other, they are more intently focussed than a generalist.

They mix and mash ideas by applying a diverse range of experiences and thought leadership to any given situation. A restless attitude is often confused by “the system” as flakey. Yet given the right conditions they have the potential to become society’s greatest force for change.

Geoff Pilkington, Medium, 2017


For many, Neo-Generalism is a modern concept, but its roots emerged during the Renaissance and Enlightenment Age, where dialogue spread across lands; science and the arts converged; and new creative forms surfaced in a divergent way. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Leon Battista Alberti gave birth to the polymath, a creative force universally learned in a variety of different subjects.

As we move into another period of radical change, their legacies are more important than ever. Today we’re witnessing the birth of the Re-Enlightenment Era, another highly influential period sparking new exploration, reformation and scientific revolution. Non-linear ideas that cut across technology, humanities, social sciences and creative disciplines are critical to driving progress.

Carl Gombrich, Head of Learning at The London Interdisciplinary School, calls ideas that originate in one discipline, but have wide-reaching and fruitful applications in other fields as “superconcepts”. Learning to think this way helps people and organisations become more sophisticated thinkers. Google X’s Moonshots are a great example of multidisciplinary experts creating superconcepts that transcend expectations. Without Neo-Gens working in ambiguous intersections organisations will find it harder to navigate a VUCA landscape and less prepared to deal with uncertainty.


Being a Neo-Generalist is not for everyone. In some ways, it can feel quite lonely, yet at the same time can make you feel more connected through collaborating with different types of experts. Here are some of my tips for aspiring Neo-Gens:


Unlike a specialist who has a learning path that’s clear and structured. A Neo-Gen faces one that is incredibly messy and opaque. Knowing where to focus attention can be a psychological mindf*ck.

The first step is to be clear about your primary discipline. Students at UCL’s Bachelors of Arts and Sciences, the UK’s first interdisciplinary degree, split their focus between one ‘major’ discipline with supporting ‘minor’ disciplines, acting as lenses to critically challenge and expand its major counterpart.

For me, my major is creative strategy with an extensive list of minors across futures, culture, neuroscience and deep tech to transform brands with my own superconcepts. This allows me to hone traditional planning skills, as well as enhance my pattern recognition, empathy, cognitive agility, critical thinking and creativity. That said, the short-term pain of juggling minors is definitely worth the long-term transformational gains achieved for me and my clients.


Anything new risks being misunderstood. Similarly, blending specialisms creates a new breed of talent that is often met with faces of doubt or fear. Whether you’re speaking to a client or recruiter, articulating your unique value is key.

James Altucher talks about “ideas sex”, as the best ideas always come from mating. Think of a pitch from a Hollywood director or Silicon Valley entrepreneur, they don’t just say “It’s like James Bond” because that’s already been done. But when they say “it’s like x + y”, beautiful imaginations begin to dance with your idea.

When pitching your value to clients, explain what it’s similar to, but also what spin you’ve added to it that creates new value for them. For me, I reshape brands through a futures & innovation lens. This means challenging truths to rethink ‘known knowns’ or using collaboration to identify ‘unknown knowns’. Whatever disciplines you blend, ‘idea sex’ could be a useful hack to get to the root of your true difference and value.


Interdisciplinary thinking requires taking yourself into spaces where you have little or no knowledge. In effect, you are an imposter. It’s a vulnerable state, but one that builds resilience.

Accepting you are an imposter is very different to faking it. You are more open to unlearning and relearning, rather than hiding and trying to force opinions on others. It’s also different to imposter syndrome, as it’s more intentional. Everyone in the room acknowledges you aren’t the domain specialist, yet the specialist to integrate. You are the connector of perspectives and intelligence. It’s a powerful position to be in and one that seeks similarities, not differences between cultures.

Don’t fear being an imposter. Instead, seek it out and embrace the enriching experience it unlocks.

So, here come the Neo-Gens. A new breed of talent growing exponentially in the freelance economy. Join me. Join the movement. Join more dots. Because why should Jack with all his trades have all the fun.

If you’re interested in learning more about Neo-Generalists, I recommend reading:

‘Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized’ HERE

Don’t be afraid to call yourself a Neo-Generalist HERE

The Rise of the Neo-Generalist HERE

Finding your path Knowing where to start Personal growth

Discover more in

Personal growth