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Generalists are obsolete, we need Versatilists++ #14

++Upcoming Events | Vignettes from the GenWise Club

Quote of the Week

The knowledge world is no longer divided between specialists and generalists. A new group-let’s call them “versatilists”-has emerged. They apply depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationships and assuming new roles. They are capable not only of constantly adapting, but also constantly learning and growing in a fast-changing world. Andreas Schleicher, OECD

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

In this week’s main post we argue that generalists who do not have depth of expertise in 1-2 fields may not play a very important role in the future. It is ‘versatilists’ who will connect the dots.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out the upcoming events section on how to join the club. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.


Generalists are Obsolete, we need Versatilists

Vignettes from the GenWise Club

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Upcoming External Events (Free & Paid)

Generalists are Obsolete, We need Versatilists

The GenWise curriculum is centred around the idea that depth of expertise in 1-2 fields must be balanced by breadth of knowledge across diverse fields. We believe that only such individuals (versatilists, as Andreas Schleicher calls them) can connect the dots in today’s world.

Research shows that generalists perform better in fields where the pace of change is slow and specialists perform better in fields where the pace of change is fast. We believe that most fields are changing at a fast pace today, and also that it is possible to ‘upgrade’ the generalist to a versatilist, thereby overcoming some of the limitations of being a ‘pure’ generalist.

In our programs and work with students, we always keep in mind, how we can nurture such versatilists. An example of this approach from the GenWise Summer School 2018 course run by our co-founders, Rajesh and Vishnu, is shared below. The course was called ‘Perspectives in tackling wicked problems’.

The course studied issues related to urban mobility (traffic congestion, safety, air pollution etc., in cities). Over the course, students started seeing the issue through the lenses of our 5 curricular tracks.

Each lens contributed a valuable perspective in tackling the issue, while the lens of the ‘planetary web’ provided the overarching view. In the initial part of the course, there was a lot of optimism about technological approaches (underground tunnels, personal travel pods, electric cars etc.). But as we dug deeper, the ‘problem definition’ itself changed and many more approaches to tackle the issues came to the fore.

The planetary web lens led to fundamental questions such as- why cities? who is the city for? should the pedestrian be prioritized or the car driver? should planning be at the level of cities or regions?. Perspectives from economics and psychology were discussed.

The technology and design lens led to considerations such as working virtually, automated traffic lights based on traffic volume, high speed transit in a region and so on.

The mathematical lens showed us that traffic flow could be much smoother if vehicles could maintain a certain distance between them. (This could be enforced with self-driving cars, or through behavioural interventions).

The scientific enquiry lens led to discussions about how experiments could be conducted to figure out what works. For example, how do we evaluate different strategies to prevent speeding in crowded areas.

The ‘tools for thinking and communication’ lens equipped students with ways of mapping the connections in the entire system and thinking about the problems. A simple simulation tool called Loopy, helped students see how building additional roads often does not solve the problem of traffic congestion, as more roads can bring in more vehicles on to roads and even lead to urban sprawl (cities spreading wider). Here is a blog post about how simulation tools were used in the course. Students also used systems thinking habits to look at deeper underlying issues e.g. how access to transport can create a vicious (or virtuous) economic cycle.

Towards the end of the course, students applied the principles they had learned to different contexts (from antibiotic resistance to international justice). Here is a chart that students made at the end of the course.

We believe that early exposure to different disciplinary lenses such as the ones in our curriculum and building ‘systems thinking’ habits will help learners become versatilists. Even as they go deeper into their own fields, they remain aware of interconnections with other fields and the larger picture.

Here’s a twitter thread by Vishnu which argues that ‘general’ generalists are obsolete in today’s world and why we need versatilists.

Vignettes from the GenWise Club

Experimental “Anti-Debate” in the Club Lounge

This was a live session, experimenting with debate/ dialogue formats. Here’s what Adhavan, a grade 9 student had to say at the end of the session. Click here to watch him speak.

The debate format with alternating rounds was prompting me to counter Sifar, rather than listening to his points. I felt under time pressure. In contrast the latter part of the session lead to a better dialogue…and is similar to ‘socratic discussion’ in my school which my teacher encourages.- Adhavan, Student

This session was born out of a conversation in the GenWise Club. Avnish suggested a few topics for a debate session to which Vishnu Agnihotri responded proposing an ‘anti-debate’ instead because many of the problems in the world are caused due to people not listening to/ understanding each other. Some students felt that an anti-debate is still a debate. To explore this, did experiment. The motion was ‘Schools are not relevant to children in today’s world’. Adhavan argued for the motion (supported by Avnish) and Sifar argued against the motion. Post this debate, Vishnu Agnihotri engaged with Adhavan in an anti-debate, where they tried to understand each other’s points and explored if they can find common ground.

Cool Problems in the #Maths Channel

Math enthusiast parents, GenWise mentors and students have been exchanging questions and puzzles out here. Here is a question if you would like to try your hand at it. Parent @asuph posed this one.

Student, Devansh, shared a proof which was followed by this conversation between them.

How do I join the GenWise Club?

Check out this link for more about the club. To join-

Get an account for you and/ or your child on Discord

Use this invite to join the GenWise server. If you face difficulties, please send a whatsapp message to Vishnu on 9342247734 (Or email

Direct Message (DM) Vishnu with your full name and details (child/ parent, grade, school) once you slide into The GenWise Club. You will be assigned the appropriate role after that and can start interacting with us and other members!

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of upcoming GenWise courses are shared below. Early registrations can avail an early bird discount.

Upcoming Events

External Events

The Theory behind Everyday Games (Chai and Why series targeted at children) on Sunday, July 18, 2021 at 11 AM by the cool TIFR outreach team. Zoom, YouTube & FBLive links available here. The session is conducted by Umang Bhaskar, a faculty member in the School of Technology and Computer Science at TIFR. The session blurb says-

“What is common to an auction and allocation of seats in an engineering college? Why does building a new road sometimes lead to worse traffic? And why can’t we ever have a perfect system of voting? These problems may not sound like the games we commonly play, but the theory behind them is known as game theory. In this session, we’ll try and understand what game theory is, what’s common to all these problems, as well as try to address some of them.”

“The social brain – insights from neuroscience of relevance to human social interactions” is a talk by Dr. Vidita Vaidya (Neuroscientist and Professor at TIFR) on July 22, 2021 at 4 PM. Here is the YouTube link for the talk.

Biodiversity in my Bengaluru Backyard Contest, for students of grades 9-12 based in Bengaluru. Details of the contest are available here.

Camp HSS from Jul 30- Aug 1,2021 is for students in grades 8-12 and is brought to us by the fantastic folks at IIT Gandhinagar (coordinated by Jaison Manjaly with faculty from Univ of Colorado, Yale, IIT Delhi etc.). Check out this page for details and to register. (Free)

The camp write-up is very exciting- “If whales and elephants have bigger brains than humans, why aren’t they smarter? Why do you love the taste of a particular chocolate brand and the sight of a specific colour? What is the possible setting in which a 75 out of 100 in an exam may feel better than a 90? What are the probable thoughts going on in the mind of a batsman when he has to score a 6 in the last ball to win the match? ……..Discover the intricacies of your gender, body, creativity, origins of thinking, and several other aspects of human intellectual and social life through various interactive sessions and talks.”

The Veritasium Science Communication Contest- We love the videos Veritasium puts out! If creating a science communication video excites you, take part in this contest and have fun. You may win up to US$ 5000 too! The sooner you upload your video to YouTube, the better your chances are…though the deadline is Aug 31, 2021 .


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