Are You A Generalist or A Specialist?


There is a raging question in the branding world. Do I want to be a generalist or a specialist? There are some assets to both however, there are also risks. As we look at those ask yourself some questions to identify who you are now and where you need to be to get to where you want to be.

Do you have a low or high resistance to change?

Do you have a willingness to fail?

Are you a creative or a follower?

What are some long term goals?

What is a generalist? Someone who can fall into a broad range of needs.

What is a specialist? Someone who specializes and one or a narrow area of expertise. 

What is the benefit of being a generalist? 

You have an un-emotional ability to shift where there is a need. Someone who identifies a need or problem can quickly project a solution. This person may not even be able to identify it within themselves however they are teachable, moldable, and can grow. Someone who answers when called and who could move up in the workplace.

What are the Cons of being a generalist?

Be careful that you do not look at the next project with enthusiasm leaving an unfinished piece of work behind. You can get caught up in the excitement of new things and or new concepts, tools, or knowledge. There is an old saying "you can be good at everything or a master at something." This is true however sometimes it is best to have someone good at everything than to be strapped to only one thing. 

What is the benefit of being a specialist?

You have a deep understanding and a well of comprehension. You are capable of answering challenging questions about that field and therefore are a needed resource. You come with the advantage of either first-hand knowledge or an educated understanding. You find your specialty enthralling and find a deep sense of pride in the subject.

What are the cons of being a specialist?

You can be too strapped to the information of data and may lose touch with practicality. Be careful to not fall into the realm of inability to make common-sense solutions. Being a specialist may hold a great deal of pressure to always know exactly what you should do at any one time. You may have longer hours committed to further education and understanding, as being a specialist calls for a great depth of knowledge and then the understanding of knowing what to do with that knowledge. Make sure you spend a great deal of time reading and listening to other stories. There is a great deal of wealth that comes from the experience you can not get from data.

As a generalist, you become a dependable employee. Turnaround is less likely with generalists as opposed to specialists. This is true as long as there are open opportunities for that employee to grow within or alongside the company. 

Specialists sometimes are hired for short term instances. Crisis management is most often managed by a specialist who would come in as a third party who is un-emotionally attached to the business and its employees. There is a huge benefit to having the advantage of an insight that is not emotionally influenced. However, a specialist with no applicable experience within the company could be costly. They could look at a large overhaul or make major changes to let go of costly employees. This can also be a benefit if you have been unable to let go of people you are emotionally attached to or eliminate outdated practices. By doing so you may be pruning an opportunity for new growth as long as you are not tearing out the origin of a companies roots. 

A generalist is a benefit to a specialist. The specialist can hear internal insight from a generalist that you would not know otherwise. They may expose failures in budgeting or leadership. I have made complete strategies based on internal information when vetted. Be sure not to accept emotionally driven insight. There may be internal quarrels that have nothing to do with the company and therefore it is best for a specialist to lean on discernment as much as informational testimony.

Specialists are beneficial to generalists. As a specialist, you may have a deeper understanding of long term evolutions. Much like someone who studies stocks, you can see how things may affect other areas if too much or too little pressure is applied. A generalist may be ready and willing but needs an understanding of how long term studies have shown problems, the generalist can learn from history. In this way, there is nothing to prove that new ideas, concepts, or tools couldn't be successful as well.

As you can see there are lots of pros and cons, benefits and liabilities to being either. You need to know who you are and own that. You can grow in your strengths and you can take note of your weaknesses. We all have them. 

As I started my company, I knew quickly I do wonderful at negotiating details and making urgent decisions. I however am not capable of having that approachable tone that makes everyone calm like warm tea and honey. I am more like the ginger shot. the one you need to shoot back quickly but is revitalizing and needed for new energy. I am resourceful and can see crisis and management before it becomes a liability. Knowing this, I partnered with my sister and mother to start this company. My sister is incredibly approachable, she is moldable and has grown with the company (a generalist.) She is always calm and people love to talk to her. My mother is a detail-oriented person (a specialist.) I bring her in when we are backed into a corner and I need fresh eyes on an event. I need both eyes and voices for very specific and different things. My sister rolls with it and stays by my side. My mother can manage without me micromanaging. It makes for a great team. None of us step on the other's toes for attention and spotlight. We all have our roles and they are all very necessary.


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