A few months ago I went to watch Cirque Du Soleil and throughout the magnificent show, I was struck by the uniqueness of each performer’s talent and how they were all at the pinnacle of their craft, whether it be trampolining like a lizard or flicking bowls onto someone’s head while balancing on a unicycle. These performers were all the ultimate specialists, all of them possibly the best in the world at their trade. And as a result, they worked for the best travelling circus around.
An example that might be more relatable is a technical developer or an accountant in your organisation – specialists who are highly valued, paid well and are seldom unemployed for very long.
I have long believed that as industries become more competitive and consumer-led, the demand for the best quality service and expertise will increase to the extent that specialists will perform every task. Rather than diversifying our skill sets, we will deepen them so that we can keep up with the demand for specialised service delivery.
However, I came across an interesting article recently that discussed the types of people Google hires. Google is ranked the #1 employer in America by Forbes for 2015 and it turns out they actively employ people who might be described as generalists. Google found that employees with a good breadth of skills and experience, the right attitude and high emotional intelligence are more adaptable and relatable. My experience with many project teams echoes this.
I have experienced more success and enjoyment when working with people who have a good base of transferable skills, who are adaptable and eager to get stuck into tasks outside their core role.
Perhaps a bias towards the case for either generalists or specialists is industry specific. I would feel far more comfortable with medical practice’s preference for specialisation, but a business analyst might find it difficult to stay competitive in the employment market if they were not able to engage across technologies and industries. There might be a case for us as managers, employees, doctors and business owners to be both specialists in certain key areas, and generalists across a breadth of areas that will add exceeding value to our teams and organisations.