Specialist or Generalist?
We live in an era where the specialist has been dominant. Recruiters and hiring managers are on the hunt for engineers, coders, machine learning experts. PhDs and people with master’s degrees are sought with diligence. Even in HR and recruiting we seek people with advanced degrees and experience. It is probably the worst time ever to be a new graduate with no experience and only a bachelor’s degree.
Should we continue on this path? What are the upsides and downsides of hiring a majority of specialists?
Specialists brings deep expertise to a narrow area. When a problem is complex and a generalist cannot solve it, then the expertise of a specialist is welcome and needed. This is common in medicine where the general practitioner often refers patients to a specialist whose entire career revolves around a very specific illness or condition. This is also true in many areas including engineering, law, and science.
So what is the role of the generalist? Generalists bring a broader perspective and see the forest rather than the trees or branches. They often bring together many disciplines that when combined offer a different or even better solution.
Innocentive is an innovation and crowdsourcing company. They solicit solutions to challenges posed by a variety of companies. Anyone can offer a solution and if successful will receive a reward ranging from a few thousand dollars to much more. Many of the solvers are not experts in the field.
Innovation often happens when the most unlikely people are empowered. In an era where there are more challenges than solutions, we need new ideas on how to deal with the challenges of A.I, global warming, an aging workforce, and the shortage of talent.
Specialists are bound to past knowledge and experience. Generalist, on the other hand, have a chance to think differently and imagine a different tomorrow because they are not bound by the past.
A pioneering “innovation marketplace” is making steady progress
When I have hired for high-visibility, high responsibility jobs, employers demand traits that from both Specialists and Generalists. Employers hire both, and how you present yourself depends on your goals and the opportunity at hand.
It depends on how fast their field is changing.
Excellent book and interview (link below) with the author who wrote about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert.
The Verge interviews journalist David Epstein about his new book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Penguin Random House).
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Hand curated articles, videos, podcasts, and other media on the future of work, talent, recruitment, and learning. If you find this useful, please share on Twitter. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.