In Judaism, the word Hakham means a wise person. A hakham might be a Torah scholar. Or he might just be someone who knows a lot about a lot of things . . . not a technical savant at all.
We prize the technical edge above all else. But will specialization really buy the groceries in the next generation of branding? No one has shaped the direction of applied consumer IT more than Steve Jobs. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, there’s a comment from a tech expert who contends Bill Gates “‘looked down on Steve because he couldn’t actually program.'” We know Gates also admired Jobs as well. Let’s stick with the uneasy tension for a moment. It’s a sensation we all know.
The duality is commonplace in modern business: We envy someone for their instinctive knack at piecing together the dots between disciplines. The same person could be short on credentialed qualifications. (Both Gates and Jobs may be the two most illustrious college dropouts in history!) A person’s lack of credentialed expertise as a specialist makes us wary. We buy anything (or anyone) based on hard evidence – from Consumer Reports to the educational pedigree of an applicant’s résumé. But, who can ignore gut genius?
Great synthesizers who can juggle and profile knowledge are now capturing center stage. With all our reverence for specialized experts, more and more bet-the farm decisions will be made either by:
• expert generalists – secular hakhams – like Steve Jobs
• or the carefully harnessed wiki-knowledge of the human “world” brain
Last month, The Economist ran a piece titled “Six degrees of mobilisation”. Cited is the 2011 Facebook finding that degrees of separation between any two humans are “an average of 4.7 hops” rather than the previously reckoned six.
The Economist also recounts strides in “social mobilisation, which treats the population as a distributed knowledge resource which can be tapped using modern technology.” Recent studies clock wow results for how fast people can locate things or each other “when it is done in a good cause, or offers a financial incentive.” The greatest generalist . . . may be all of us, in general.
This democratization is also sweeping away old business models. Early heartbeats of socialistic capitalism? The power of this New Generalism is redefining knowledge. And, it’s already sure to remake the face of branding.