Specialization is common knowledge — learn a popular discipline and build a career around it.
Society is designed to function based on specialization. “…career advisors advocate specializing as much as possible — the more narrow the specialty, the better, writes Josh Kaufman.
A greater percentage of people commit to a single skill. If you get good at it, you become indispensable to your employer as long as business is good.
But what if things change? What if your skills are no longer needed?
Being a specialist pays for a while until change happens. And then you are forced to adapt. The bad news is, if you don’t have another skill, you could quickly become obsolete unless you are at the top 10% percent of specializations society need to function.
Our ever-changing world rewards people with multiple skills.
“Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains,” says David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
Today, cross-domain knowledge can save your career. If you a writer, learn how to market your content. Your success depends on it. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t just launch products; learn how to lead, delegate, relate better with people, use better technology and connect with the right people.
With limited knowledge and skills, progress can take twice as long. You need experts to get great results. But basic knowledge can significantly improve how you work.
I recently repurposed some of my old content as ebooks. 9 books in total. To launch on time (in 4 weeks) and quickly get back to writing daily, I edited, designed the book covers, created sales pages for each book, self-published and marketed all the books at the same time.
I made the most of online; hence the process was more straightforward. It wasn’t a steep learning curve. An expert at each stage of the process would have done a better job, but I didn’t have the time to find one.
The point is, being good at many things and fabulous at a few save you time and help you thrive in a rapidly changing world. You don’t have to be the best at everything, but you can creatively learn a few complementary skills that can make your work easier.
History is full of people who combined many domains and changed the course of history. Influential people like Isaac Newton, Galileo, Aristotle, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci were generalists.
“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Da Vinci said.
Modern-day generalists like Elon Musk has integrated multiple skills to create multibillion-dollar companies.
“My own career fits the generalist model pretty well. I spent a lot of time reading books on a wide range of topics,” writesBill Gates.
Instead of digging deeper into a single domain, his understanding of several domains means he can successfully integrate, where necessary, and connect ideas better.
Use the t-shaped approach to new skills
“Your skill can be either an asset or a liability.” ― Justin Ho
Successful generalists master a few domains and build complementary skills to thrive. They use the t-shaped approach to learn better.
“A T-shaped person has deep knowledge/skills in one area and a broad base of general supporting knowledge/skills,” writes Ransom Patterson of College Info Geek.
People who have t-shaped skills learn broad base general skills to support their core knowledge. For example, a t-shaped marketer knows just enough about content marketing, email marketing, search marketing and social marketing to stay relevant.
When you become a generalist, you can reinvent yourself with time, adapt to evolving work demands and work effortlessly with others to make progress.
You can connect ideas from multiple perspectives and use different industry knowledge to your advantage. You become more resilient to change.
A commitment to multiples skills opens up many more opportunities for you in the future. It means you are versatile. You will be able to take advantage of your considerable skills in the future if you lose your current job or need to supplement your income.
“No tool is omnicompetent.” Arnold Toynbee said. One great skill is rarely enough in our complex world. The rapid pace of change means a single skill may no longer be enough.
The good news is, you don’t have to learn all your complementary skills at once. Once you know where to start or what to learn, stack the skills one at a time. Over time your wealth of knowledge will be enough to make you a competent generalist.
To thrive in the new world of work, focus on learning timeless horizontal skills to support your core skill. Build other competencies around your expertise.
People with a host of interdependent skills can build meaningful and lasting careers in the 21st century. In our increasingly connected and interdependent world, your wealth of knowledge can make you indispensable.