Specialist, Generalist or in between, which are you?

Written by Abiodun Mamora

specialist-generalist-intro

Source: Abiodun Mamora

All over the world there is a growing need for professionals to occupy positions and produce results in the area of their expertise. The demand for professionals has driven people to choose a field of endeavor and commit to securing the prerequisite educational qualification with respect to this field both formally and informally. People are encouraged from a tender age to choose a career and study in that line. However in this emerging world, if your choice becomes outdated due to new technological advancement, what happens? Would you be willing to make another choice and begin studying afresh? So, some people prefer to be a generalist, while others still hold strongly to the concept of specialization.

Argument for Specialization

The concept of division of labor and specialization was popular during the industrial age. This concept relates to the breaking down of large jobs into many components and having workers concentrate on an area of the task.  This made the workers become experts in their respective isolated area of production, thus increasing the volume of output. Hence the educational system was structured to produce specialists that could effectively handle an aspect of a process for greater productivity. More recently is the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell which further buttresses the need for specialization. The rule says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

It takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Malcolm Gladwell                                                                                                                           Click To Tweet

In summary, the advantages of specialization include greater efficiency, increased productivity, mastery of the subject matter and ability to deliver on expectation among others.

In summary, the advantages of specialization include greater efficiency, increased productivity, mastery of the subject matter and ability to deliver on expectation among others.                                                                                                                Click To Tweet

Argument for Generalization

A generalist is one who knows a bit about so many things (related or unrelated) and combines ideas from diverse fields for maximum productivity. It is a common believe that no knowledge is wasted therefore, deliberately seeking a wide array of knowledge could be the key to profound discoveries. A generalist is versatile, can easily adapt and welcomes new venture. He/she world have worked with or understudied several specialists in different fields and can therefore produce better result by bringing to bear his/her diversified knowledge accumulated over a period of time.

My View

Due to the fast pace of technological advancement and new discoveries that characterize our knowledge driven economy, expanding my coast to acquire new knowledge is paramount. A diversified experience will offer the leverage to not just respond to emerging trends but pilot some of the new discoveries. Specialization is of great value because it provides the base for all the expeditions and exploration. It’s the anchor for my knowledge adventures. Generalization on the other hand offers the opportunity to interact with different fields of human endeavor that can impact on the level of expertise I display in my profession. Because of my admiration for these two ideologies, I have developed a bridge concept called universal specialist.

A universal specialist is one who is committed to acquiring the knowledge, aptitude and skills that applies to his/her universe. The universe can be referred to as the world of knowledge expedition that surrounds an individual’s profession. This offers the opportunity for broader exposure required to set the pace in any field of endeavor. For example, my profession is financial accounting, but I have been able to identify expertise that compliments my profession and keeps me versatile in the field of finance. Hence, I have developed my world of knowledge expedition to create a convincing generalist outlook with a foundation in my specialty.

A universal specialist is one who is committed to acquiring the knowledge, aptitude and skills that applies to his/her universe.                                                          Click To Tweet

Above is a representation of my world of knowledge expedition. It’s the reflection of the journey I embarked upon over five years ago.  As new discoveries are made, my world gets bigger. This picture compels me to keep acquiring diversified knowledge that will better position me for global leadership.

My Advice

I encourage you to identify your personal niche/area of specialization and construct a world of desired expertise around it that accentuate and compliment your dominant skill. Also you may consider discussing this with someone (such as your spouse, colleague, supervisor, friend or career coach), who can help you in discovering your world of knowledge expedition and also hold you accountable.

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