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Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

David Epstein

Research on aviation accidents, for example, found that “a common pattern was the crew’s decision to continue with their original plan” even when conditions changed dramatically. When Weick spoke with hotshot Paul Gleason, one of the best wildland firefighters in the world, Gleason told him that he preferred to view his crew leadership not as decision making, but as sensemaking. “If I make a decision, it is a possession, I take pride in it, I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it,” Gleason explained. “If I make sense, then this is more dynamic and I listen and I can change it.” He employed what Weick called “hunches held lightly.” Gleason gave decisive directions to his crew, but with transparent rationale and the addendum that the plan was ripe for revision as the team collectively made sense of a fire.

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