Conventional wisdom makes a compelling case for specializing early. Society also tends to value specialists more. They serve a very specific purpose and are extremely adept at navigating it.
The new wisdom is — become a visible expert in a niche, get noticed, and use that knowledge and influence to become a prudent generalist.
Many companies recruit for specialist roles but list out requirements for generalists. People who become awesome at one thing but also embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive in a changing world.
David Epstein, author of Range, Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World explains, “Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains. Our most fundamental thought processes have changed to accommodate increasing complexity and the need to derive new patterns rather than rely only on familiar ones. Our conceptual classification schemes provide a scaffolding for connecting knowledge, making it accessible and flexible.”
Many successful people and businesses have consistently relied on this approach to build great careers and businesses. They deepen their knowledge in a single area and make knowledge connections in other niches.
The most impactful and influential people branch out across domains at some point even though they are noted for one great thing.
Many of the world’s most impactful people, both historical and contemporary have been generalists — Richard Feynman, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
If you’ve built a reputation as an expert in something people want, you can easily explore other ideas at the opportune moment.
Today, careers that felt safe and certain can easily disappear. It makes sense to broaden your knowledge, skills, and competencies to become indispensable.
A career path is a work in progress — strive for broadness throughout your career
“The future belongs to the integrators.” — Educator Ernest Boyer
Most people’s work and life preferences do not stay the same. Becoming good at something else apart from your main domain will make your competitive.
To survive the changing world, a graphic designer can easily become good at video marketing. Or better still create online courses to serve even more people. “…if you’re an amazing Perl developer, it helps to have some good understanding of other languages or work on your management, communication or project management skills,” says Rob Pellow, digital design director at Bristol CRM agency Armadillo. “That way, you are offering yourself as more than just a specific type of developer.”
People with exceptional experience or skill in other areas have a strong understanding of the other roles around them and what is required to work with others in a team.
In an increasingly interdependent world, if you have sufficient depth in a few — or even many — domains, you can often be more valuable than a specialist.
A successful writer can start a podcast, self-publish a book, host webinars, launch amazing writing courses.
Gary Vaynerchuk first came to fame in the late 90’s after starting one of the first online wine sites, WineLibrary. Today, he is the chairman of VaynerX, a modern-day media and communications company. Gary also runs the #AskGaryVee Show on YouTube. He has also written several books.
Gretchen Rubin is a five-time New York Times bestselling author, blogger, podcaster, and speaker — exploring happiness and good habits. The New York Times called her “the queen of the self-help memoir.”
Pat Flynn started as a blogger. Today, he teaches his followers about investing in online businesses and generating passive income through posts, videos, podcast, online courses, books, webinars and speaking engagements.
Tim Ferriss has authored five books. His podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, is one of the most popular podcasts today. Tim has been invited to speak at some of the world’s most innovative organizations. He is also an angel investor. The New York Times listed Ferriss among their “Notable Angel Investors”.
There are dozens of more amazing stories like these, and they all point to the same conclusion — severe specialisation stifles potential. In a world of unprecedented technological advancement, we must all strive to make better connections to become the best versions of ourselves. Epstein explains in an interview with for DailyStoic.
We miss out on wisdom if we’re too narrow…Specialists become so narrow that they actually start developing worse judgment about the world as they accumulate knowledge…Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. Transfer is your ability to take knowledge and skills and apply them to a problem or situation you have not seen before. And your ability to do that is predicted by the variety of situations you’ve faced…As you get more variety, you’re forced to form these broader conceptual models (in the classroom setting called “making connections” knowledge), which you can then wield flexibly in new situations.
Establishing yourself as an expert in a single niche is profitable, but to thrive in a changing world, learn to connect knowledge better, improve upon what you already know, and maximise your domain. It’s easier than ever to branch out into a new field or skill set.
The “indispensables” of tomorrow are those who can combine their skills in unique ways. They are those who will be tomorrow’s influencers. If if you aspire to a leadership role, acquire other people management skills needed to excel in your niche.
“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 favour of other activities, add a little more time to your day where you focus on learning something new,” says Art Markman of 99U.
Increasingly the advantage is going to people who have broad integrative skills. The more that you broaden and deepen your base of knowledge, the more opportunities you will have to solve problems, share your ideas, and make an even bigger impact. If you develop an appetite for learning and openness, you will make yourself anti-fragile. Adapt to survive.
Previously published on medium
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