Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are You A Generalist Or Specialist?

I've often heard people warn young emerging professionals about the dangers of being too 'narrow' in their professional capabilities.  I think this is dangerous advice. From my experience, there are two types of people in the professional world: generalists and specialists.

Generalist vs. Specialist It's quite the dilemma – should one aspire to be a utility player considering most organisations are under growing pressure and perhaps the jack of all trades covers many bases the specialist can't.

But are generalists easily interchanged because they there qualities are not focused?

Honestly there's probably room for both. However, I think people who are doubtful of the specialist need to stop. They're not 'narrow'.

  • The people who often push the boundaries in a certain discipline are those who have the 10,000 hours of focused experience.
  • It's simply not possible to be good at everything – what I fear is that I'm not focused enough and if you believe the Alfa Romeo strapline, 'mediocrity is a sin', then striving for diversity may indeed be a strive in vain to be the mediocre professional at a long list of disciplines.

There is a flip side though.

  • The generalist can often make a great senior manager.
  • Dipping the toes in the different functions of multiple departments and of course, the entrepreneur – turning their hand to run and perform functions in the cash-strapped start-up.
  • Look at the Richard Bransons of this World – it's hard to quantify their exact talent in comparison to the Einstein's and champion athletes.

My conclusion is this:

if you're a specialist – great!  If you're a generalist – also great!

They are both equally important and both have room to work together in the corporate world.  What I would stress is this though – are you happy being what you are?  Have you thought about whether you a generalist or specialist?  Does being a generalist or specialist fit with your aspirations?  Today is the today to change if not.  Starting focusing or start diversifying, but at least recognise you can only really ever be one of the above.

Are you a generalist or specialist?  Are there other types?  What are the advantages/disadvantages?

Thanks to Connor Keppel / Bloggertone


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