The term “versatilist” was first mentioned to me by Stephen Ibaraki and we had a very interesting discussion over coffee one day about what it means. For some reason, perhaps peculiar to me, I have difficulty in getting the word to roll of my tongue. Every time I try and think of “versatilist”, “virtualist” comes into my head instead. At first I found this quite frustrating and put it down to some form of dyslexia or advancing years; “old age and infirmary” as my wife’s grandfather used to say! He of course meant “old age and infirmity”. Mrs Malaprop would be proud!
I thought that maybe Mrs Malaprop was at work in my case as well but then it struck me maybe there was more to it. Perhaps there was some unconscious connection between the two words. That got me thinking again about how one might try to define a “versatilist”. Clearly, to qualify, a wide range of experience and skills would be appropriate but that could easily be described as a “generalist”. So such things are necessary but not sufficient to describe a “versatilist”.
Let’s return to “virtualist” for a moment. In today’s IT world the word is taking on a different meaning from a strict dictionary definition, take virtual OS’s for example. With virtual OS’s we have new ways to test “scenarios” before implementation, ie. try and solve problems before they become a problem.
So where is the connection for me? My thought is that perhaps the “versatilist” is able to call upon a wide range of skills and experience and use them to “solve problems” in ways that perhaps others cannot. They can “virtualize” the problem. This is not intended to put an elitist spin on anything. That would be the last thing that I would want. Most of both our personal and professional life is about “problem solving” in one form or another, and some people are most definitely better at it than others!
Over my career I have had the pleasure and fascination of meeting some very “impressive” people. It is always interesting to try and figure out what sets them apart, and of course learn from them if you can. Personality, intelligence, “smarts”, “charisma”, etc. don’t totally describe it. There is a certain “je ne sais quoit”. Perhaps they can instinctively “virtualize” their accumulated knowledge to see things that others cannot. Even they probably don’t know how they do it!
I hope none of this sounds totally “off the wall” and those guys in “little white coats” aren’t lying in wait for me :). If the term “versatilist” is going to become common place in the IT industry then at some point we need to have a working definition to measure oneself against. Implicit in what I have said is that some people are more likely to “get there” eventually than others. That is simply a fact of life. However, if such people are going to be in higher demand it is also implicit that we need to figure out if and how we can “train” them. It is akin to the age old and never ending debate as to whether managers are “born” or “made”.