Lyza Danger Gardener: Generalism

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Lyza Danger Gardener was talking about being a generalist on the web, these are my notes from her talk.

The web is a generalist's paradise.  The web was simple but we wanted to control it - the big jump was CSS.  As we entered a new millennium we had more choices.  The web can seem like an edifice of complexity.  Being a generalist on the web can seem like a noisy place - too much choice, too much information.  Information is no longer precious, it was elusive.  Now we're drowning in information coming from the firehose.  We are all librarians curating information.  We are master synthesists, often without realising it. 

We got what we asked for with the web.  We see ever change as the status quo but we're too quick to fall in love.  Gap between master and has-been can seem like days.  Can be fun to dive in but we have limits.  We can run out of motivation.

  • Incomplete mastery before we have to change.
  • Ear-plugging - we ignore things.
  • Motivation dies on the corner of boring and hard.

Boring hard kryptonite is different for different people.

"No offense, but you're just a web developer."  This kind of shame casts a long shadow.  We still adore rock stars - single subject experts.  Leads to imposter syndrome.

Virtuous generalists is a rare skill.  You can't spot them from a CV.  You can hand them work that they don't know how to do and they'll do it.  They're a master of synthesis.  Synthesis plus skills equals wisdom.  It's a strange a difficult path - we need defenses.

What is it that we need to do?  Focus on something and get it done - don't forget the task due to overchoice.  Analysis paralysis - we dislike it.  Re-introduce some constraints.  Keep the options limited to make you think about the details of what you can do.  Constraints are a benevolent force that give us focus. 

We worked within constraints and it was in some ways easier.  We now need to bridge between different sets of constraints.  Start from the centre and work outwards (* first).  They are an antidote to overchoice.  Being a generalist is a journey of being a beginner over and over again.

It's OK to be triumphant.  We've fetished nasty but necessary hacks.  We don't want something that's catastrophically complicated to build.

Nurture what you do well.  Take in and practice wisdom.  Sharing wisdom is the final part of the puzzle.  We're in this together.  Care and feed our internal generalist.

I know that I know nothing.