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Why Be a Generalist: My Thoughts on the Importance of Generalists in a World Full of Specialists

Have you ever wondered if it’s better to have a broad knowledge and variety in your skill set or a specific focus on one area? In the past companies and corporations have emphasized the importance of being an “expert.” They argue that the better the expert you are the further you will get in your […]

Tim Gentry - Why Be a Generalist In a World Full of Specialists

Have you ever wondered if it’s better to have a broad knowledge and variety in your skill set or a specific focus on one area? In the past companies and corporations have emphasized the importance of being an “expert.” They argue that the better the expert you are the further you will get in your career. While there is truth in the specialist argument, leaders and corporations are recognizing in the new economy the power of being a generalist is just as important. To fully understand the equal influence of generalists, we need to break down both arguments.

Generalist vs.Specialist

A specialist, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary is defined as “one who specializes in a particular occupation, practice, or field of study.” You can count on a specialist to know everything there is to know about a particular field. A generalist is simply described as a “jack of all trades,” or someone who knows a lot about a variety of subjects. Generalists tend to have a wider set of skills and can understand more than one subject.

Depending on your personality and career path you choose, you could end up on either end of the spectrum. It’s crucial to note that there is a shift happening in the workforce. The Harvard Business Review argues that a more connected world allows generalists to thrive: “Our highly interconnected and global economy means that seemingly unrelated developments can affect each other.” Generalists tend to know more about these unrelated developments and can see the big picture.  

Transferable Skills

As a generalist, you have the opportunity to bring a variety of skills to the table. Even better, you can take and apply your radiant skill set to different jobs and life experiences. No matter where you go you’ll need to complete tasks that are wider than your specific role within a company. If you take your transferable skills into the office, you’ll have an edge communicating with your co-workers, managing projects or people, and the ability to contribute in a meaningful way.

Embrace It

My advice for you is to embrace your inner generalist. I’ve made a focused effort to take on a new challenge and learn something brand-new, and that’s totally okay. There’s no reason you have to focus on learning everything about one area of study. We live in a marketplace like no other, 80% of companies will be transformed or will fail over the next five years. Being a strong generalist ensures you can identify the challenges and part of the transformation from small to large shifts within the business roles. Hyper specialists will have a hard time learning how to change and could become antiquated as a business changes.

The three ways I suggest and personally do to strengthen my Generalist’s muscle:

  1. Pick a new topic in an associate field: Teach yourself about AI from edX.org
  2. Learn something creative: Learn how to do Oragomy
  3. Challenge yourself physically: Learn how to and go climb Kilimanjaro

The journey of being a generalist will connect you to ideas, new models, people, and opportunities you would have never been introduced/seen. Take the skills you learn and interact with others to make a significant contribution to your peers, customers, and society.

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