Adobe-full-color Adobe-white Adobe-black logo-white Adobe-full Adobe Behance arrow-down arrow-down 2 arrow-right arrow-right 2 Line Created with Sketch. close-tablet-03 close-tablet-05 comment dropdown-close dropdown-open facebook instagram linkedin rss search share twitter


Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist

If you develop an appetite for learning and openness, you're more likely to be able to draw ideas from multiple disciplines - and be more creative.

One thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. They are expert generalists. Their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.

As it turns out, there are two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition.

Openness to Experience is one of the Big Five personality characteristics identified by psychologists. The Big Five are the characteristics that reflect the biggest differences between people in the way they act. Openness to Experience is the degree to which a person is willing to consider new ideas and opportunities. Some people enjoy the prospect of doing something new and thinking about new things. Other people prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities.

As you might expect, high levels of Openness to Experience can sometimes be related to creativity. After all, being creative requires doing something that has not been done before. If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.

However, creativity also requires knowledge. In order to do something that has not been done before in some area, you have to know a lot about that discipline. Creative painters need to know a lot about art and painting. Creative scientists need to be skilled in their science.

If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.

At the same time, creativity often requires drawing analogies between one body of knowledge and another. Pablo Picasso merged Western art techniques with elements of African art. He was struck by the way African artists combined multiple perspectives into a single work, and that helped lead to the development of cubism. Similarly, great scientists often draw parallels between different areas to create new ideas. In the history of science, Johannes Kepler struggled to understand how the planets could move around the sun, and drew on his knowledge of light and magnetism to try to understand the force that moved the planets.

In order to have deep knowledge about a discipline as well as a wide base of knowledge that can be mined later for analogies, it is important for someone to enjoy thinking. Learning new things can be difficult and frustrating, and so those people who like to think will stick with a new topic long enough to acquire good knowledge about it. Psychologists John Cacioppo, Richard Petty, and their colleagues have identified the Need for Cognition characteristic, which reflects how much people like to think.

Some people are driven to think about topics deeply, while others avoid situations that require them to think. People high in Need for Cognition routinely spend the time and effort necessary to learn new things, simply because they enjoy the process of learning.

Creativity often requires drawing analogies between one body of knowledge and another.

The combination of high Openness to Experience and high Need for Cognition is powerful. People with this combination of characteristics develop the habit to learn about a wide range of topics. They watch documentaries and follow up by reading articles. They engage in conversations about new subjects and ask lots of questions to ensure they understand.

I call these individuals expert generalists, because they have a wide variety of knowledge. They are able to use this knowledge to suggest new ways to look at problems. They are also good at translating across areas of expertise. So, when a group gets together to solve a problem, they can help different members of that group to see how their knowledge inter-relates.

Of course, if you don’t happen to be high in Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition, you can still develop habits to help you to be more creative. If you tend to resist new ideas, recognize the value in new experiences and work to open yourself up to more opportunities. If you are the kind of person who often avoids thinking in favor of other activities, add a little more time to your day where you focus on learning something new. The more that you broaden and deepen your base of knowledge, the more opportunities you will have to be creative.

How About You?

Would you consider yourself an expert generalist? How have you broadened your knowledge base?

More Posts by Art Markman

Comments (114)
  • anna.niedbala

    whats up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Stan Mitchel

    hello im new not 2 good at computer..can u read me?

    • anna.niedbala

      is avery cool

  • Guest

    Janusz znowu jajniki cię bolą…

  • keijo elki

    j dont want my names in bubblik,when j write something,,,so my nickname are finne

  • Hamza Hassnain


  • candy

    I and wood has been together for 6 years. We both put our capital together to open a shop and since then we have been living happily without any problem. I always discuss about marriage with wood but he replies me that we will soon get married. I was surprise on Thursday morning when i was in my brother’s house, wood called me on phone and told me that we can no longer carry on with the relationship because he has find himself a rich a lady whom he want to get married to. I was shocked and hospitalize for 4 days. I was so tired and tried to take my life because i truly love him. All the investment was opened in his name and signature and i am left with nothing. last week i was directed to I contacted him and he told me what i need to provide for he to bring back my happiness. I never believe in him because he was requesting for money which i don’t have, i discussed it with my brother and he decided to assist me because he wants the best for me. I sent him what was required of me by the temple and two days after i contacted him, wood came back begging for my forgiveness. I was so surprise that it worked. I and wood are happily married today and i won Dr. kiggi my happiness. If anyone need to be happy in any circumstance, i will advise you to contact Dr.kiggi through

  • Jack R Phillips

    First time logging in…uh, is there anyone “normal” here?

  • LilKing OfFreecity


  • arati123

    new user

  • MachuPichuCP11

    I can’t seem to get a picture on my account >:(

  • akash yadav
  • Christian Almada

    crazy people

  • AnjaRo

    I am a new member of disqus yet or better as well. I do not have a brilliant handy with a display as well as a computer with camera.

  • AnjaRo

    crazy people is annoying.

  • AnjaRo

    In my point of view: you need an abstract for your “Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist” which we can see in each account.

  • AnjaRo

    I do not click just once to heading “Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist” because this heading is not amazing for reading.

  • AnjaRo

    When you click on the link “see more” , anything happens! Actually which software do you use?

  • AnjaRo

    I see the same: ” As you might expect, high levels of Openness to Experience can sometimes be related to creativity.” (Quotation of Markmans’ article see below)
    More here I see the awful Layout of this webpage here.

  • AnjaRo

    To your article below, please create a bibliography.

  • AnjaRo

    Actually I had lots of problems because I created a really good twitter account. Assuming because I read the articles. Afterwards twitter wanted offer me a twitter teacher. What do you think about this offer?

  • david

    Great blog. For sure, the technology based
    email lists primarily focuses on IT
    prospects so that you reach your niche market. More info… go to

  • ABhi Bhardwaj

    thank You so much….That is something 🙂

  • Cynthia

    What’s new here?

  • MindCron
  • ski

    meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

1 2 3
blog comments powered by Disqus

More articles on Productivity

John S. Couch
Painting Woman By Emily Eldridge
Figure inside a battery icon.