Did you know that most of the careers and professions we know of today did not exist 100 years ago? Did you know many of these professions were not around 20 years back?
Ever since human beings moved out of caves and started settling and building civilizations, more and more professions have emerged to serve the needs created by scientific advancements and human aspirations.
Till about the first half of the 20th century, the generalist was king. The person who had the widest range of competencies and most number of skills had the ‘guru’ status. They held all key positions, they had the respect of the world. They ruled.
Then a shift took place. Gradually a growing calls of specialists emerged – people who had deep know-how in a particular field or skill, could unravel the most intricate details of that craft, but were not required to be well-versed in pretty much everything else.
Actually generalists and specialists have existed in every civilization and age, and region. Only, earlier, specialists were few and under the rocks, but with the coming of the information age, they came to the limelight and started spreading in fame and recognition.
However, now a new phenomenon is already germinating and will grow in the near future. It’s the class of the Specialized Generalist (or generalized specialist….whichever you prefer).
You see, 2 things are here to stay at least for the next century –
- the exponential growth of information and
- pace of disruptive change.
To make sense of these two phenomena, and ride it, our society requires a class of cutting-edge professionals – individuals with highly detailed skills and knowledge in key areas – niches in which they have deep mastery, coupled with a broad understanding of a large number of interrelated skills and information that are part of the surrounding ecosystem. They must be able to dive deep into their chosen calling, but also swim comfortably on the surface of other disciplines.
Take any industry as it exists in 2015, and you will realize the truth in this – every industry has a few factors that demand 2-3 ‘generalized-knowledge’ domains. For example-
- healthcare: doctors need specialized clinical skills couples with generalized knowledge of data, improvement, and some managerial competencies if they wish to grow into leadership positions.
- Software: engineers today increasingly need marketing and business development skills along with the core coding and programming chops.
- Finance: Book-keeping plus an understanding of future trends in your industry.
- Business: Entrepreneurial plus managerial skills, with a flair for arts, humanities and design.
Generalized specialists will be in demand in the future. If you want to come out on top and succeed in your profession, you need to do 2 things:
- Identify your niche: what’s that small corner of the ocean in your industry that you can claim expertise in?
- Identify the critical factors in the ecosystem: In your niche, what’s the biggest pain? What are the ‘make-or-break’ factors? Can you find innovative ‘pain-killers’ for these factors?
- Make sense of the trends, not only what predicted, but also your sense of where it is going: With all the technological and global disruptions, where’s your industry headed? what will it look like 10, 20 or 30 years from now?
- Generalize in this ecosystem: What aspects of the perimeter of this ecosystem should you become aware of?
Here’s the thought to carry along:
“Specialize in your niche, and generalize in the ecosystem”.