A particular topic starts with generalists but as time progresses and stability (i.e. a path worth pursuing) becomes apparent, specialization is needed to eek out more performance gains.
Then after a while, that particular area gets disrupted because there's a fundamental shift in landscape and the cycle repeats because the landscape is new to everyone. Many times this new landscape was brought on because a specialist applied a specific finding to a new, larger group. Then generalists help build that new space.
Maybe this is obvious...
And yep, you’re spot on.
Which is to say, specialists tend to get hired once stability is achieved but also tend to capture more value / status than the generalists that helped the system navigate the s-curve?
Alternatively, are all senior hires at stable systems like FAANGs, specialists? Even if they're generalists, do they get valued less than them: May be hired at Staff level instead of Senior Staff or above?
If you look at startups, for the most part, need lots of senior generalists who have a can-do attitude to 'just figure it out'.
Ideally, those generalists get rewarded w/ stock (side stepping the trigger topic on purpose) because they joined close to the ground floor. Most startups don't need and/or can't afford specialists until around Series B. Again ideally, if you needed a specialist early, you've got one on the founding team.
Many exceptions to the above statement, but it fits this topic's narrative.
Are you assuming that being a specialist in a mature market always makes you more money than being an early player? I don't think that's always the case, there are many stories in the news of early employees of Silicon Valley companies who are now multi-millionaires just because they were in early. E.g. one of them IIRC is the cook who was in charge of preparing meals for the early Google team.
Nobody is born a specialist. Universities do produce some but it's research, not the same as development and deployment.
And you need generalists as well as multiple field specialists to not get locked in a quibble over comma or a comfortable but overcomplicated and bad solution.
What if species have always gone through collapse/regrowth cycles and we happen to be viewing things through a too finely-focused lens that skews interpretation?
I'm not trying to make light of Humankind's horrific environmental impact, rather checking that we're not simply missing a fundamental natural law and so misinterpreting things.
This came to the fore of my mind particularly recently, listening to a podcast wherein part was talking about a rebound in the population of Peregrine Falcons, with them taking up homes across London.
- ed lol at me - 'taking up homes across London' sounds like the falcons are gentrifying. I meant, obviously, 'their populations are growing across London'.
These days I’m far less interested in what skills someone has. I’m far more interested to see if they have a track record of being able to adapt to changing circumstances. I’d much rather have someone who has shown they can adapt - or better still, will embrace the chaos openly :)
You don’t want to have everyone like that - you need a few “slow and steady wins the race” types to keep fundamental stuff going too. But I know which side of that equation I’d rather be on :)
E.g., both parties may have to work and do household duties because a one-salary household is much harder to manage financially now due to wages, lack of employment stability etc.
Much like your example, though I think it said specialisation itself can offer up new generalist opportunities, so internal forces as well as external shifts.
One of my favourite books of late.
(I'm not sure it has to be a two-dimensional spectrum in all scenarios —I believe there may be cases in which robustness and efficiencies are at least partially orthogonal/independent to each other.)
Taleb discusses this in his writing, if I recall correctly.
- do you keep searching in breadth for new avenues
- or is it time to dive in depth in what you found so far.
And this is even optimized through something called "regret".
- example: https://rlss.inria.fr/files/2019/07/exploration_lazaric_1.pd...
When the market turns these are the first to be downsized because they are very expensive. The generalists are more sought after because firms try to produce the same output with fewer resources, and for this you need the jack-of-all-trades types.
I don't think it's a problem. It's just that specialization can happen in skill AND in genetic adaptability to the environment. We think of skill and genetics as separate things, but in this context it can be helpful to think of them as existing along a continuum of how we learn about the environment and adapt to it. Genetic adaptations 'learn' about the environment over multiple generations, and behavior changes happen within a single generation.
So for example, the finch is specialized exactly because it can't change its beak, and the human is a generalist exactly because it can alter its behavior. I think you could argue that any human behavioral 'specialization' is still probably less adapted to any given environment than animals who evolved for a million years to be suited to that environment.
It's good to be a genetic generalist during times of instability specifically because you are incapable of changing your genes during the upheaval - and thus while you may not thrive in any circumstance the risk of extinction is also mitigated. If we had advanced genetic engineering, and could rapidly adopt different genes to suit the circumstances without having to wait for generations of random mutations, there would be no reason not to specialize genetically. While this is a pure hypothetical for genetics, it is reality for behavior - no matter how much you've invested into learning one skill, you can instantly switch to learning another, and you can choose exactly the skillset you want to curate. When a new field emerges, your experience in other, unrelated fields is irrelevant - the specialist is at no disadvantage compared to the generalist, and so they sacrifice nothing by specializing in a field.
In contrast to genetic evolution, which has very discrete goals (reproduce, survive, etc) and is agnostic about how these goals are achieved, skillsets can have a much wider range of objectives and the 'how' is integral. A finch might optimize for eating nuts or insects, or could remain a generalist to handle both, but is unlikely to come across a nut-insect hybrid where the generalist beak outperforms either the nut or the insect beak. But such interdisciplinary situations happen all the time - for example the roboticist with understanding of mechanics and software can do better than either a pure mechanical engineer or pure software engineer. The roboticist has a wider, shallower skillset, but that is only beneficial for tasks which happen to overlap - they won't have any easier time switching to say pharmaceutical development. It simply doesn't make sense to think of the roboticist as a generalist and the other engineers as specialists in the evolutionary sense.
Certainly any direct comparison of specific behavioral to genetic specializations is illogical. By what metric would you compare how well adapted a lion is to a big game hunter with a gun? How could you compare a dam-building construction crew to a family of beavers? Again, we might use similar words to describe what they are doing, but we are describing totally distinct concepts.
Games could be seen as different universes, they have different rules. Generalists looking for 'meta' ideas that can help them understand the game rules quickly and take advantage first. Specialists tend to put more effort into the same game or the same genre practicing (like typical professional players) and then slowly outperform generalists.
In the real world, unstable or dynamic societies are continuously changing rules, and it feels just like jumping from games to games. Once the society becomes stable or static, specialists slowly come into play.
On top of that, there's also another dimension of the game: speed. If the game rule is very simple, then the specialists would win very fast. Otherwise, the process would be very slow when the game is very deep. I believe the same rule would also apply to different industries.
Joking aside, I love this comment.
To expand on this further - maybe the question of generalist vs specialist is not the right question. Rather, I come to this conclusion when exploring that topic - adapt to the environment.
So, the 3-step plan to become successful at life (TM):
1. understand what it takes to be successful in the current environment
2. adapt yourself to be successful in the current environment
3. understand that your environment will change, so iterate over time by going back to step 1
Something in a deep minimum may well go to heck when y’all he situation changes just a little bit.
Nothing says you can't spam specialist, niche offspring -- works well for certain kids of ants. Likewise you can spam generalist spawn as well, hoping that they'll be well rounded enough to get by in several different scenarios.
From a career perspective specialization pays better but in tech few specialities last a career. So also build skill sets and assets that can be leveraged into other tech or even non-tech domains.
I could argue that I have a little more career resilience, since some creative editing of my resume gives me the ability to apply for 5-6 different careers, but my resume will be suspiciously lacking in details compared to people who have focused.
Generalists are definitely at an advantage when it comes to leadership roles and entrepreneurship, but it doesn't do me any good to be good at a role I have no chance to get without networking or a large cash base.
I think those who specialize have a more successful career, assuming their specialization doesn't die out. If I had spent the last 10 years being a really good C++ programmer instead of doing a little bit of everything, I'd have a lot of confidence in doing a lot of C++ focused jobs.
I still do something similar within a vendor today and I do find myself having to consciously tell myself "It's OK not to understand much about $X technology area."
There are still roles that probably do require actually specializing to become great at (e.g. graphics/game engine dev comes to mind) but those roles are comparably rare. Most of the Android/iOS/Java/C#/React/JS/TypeScript/etc developers I’ve met could become proficient in any of those other technologies, they just choose not to, perhaps out of comfort. FWIW, in my personal experience, willingness to learn new things/broaden perspective & skill base (a.k.a. being a generalist) is correlated with job performance to the point where ‘not in my job description’ and ‘no I won’t learn UIKit, I’m an Android developer’ stand out as major red flags. “I don’t have time to learn React because I need to familiarize myself with the 8 new types of pointers C++ added this release’ feels a little more reasonable, but again, the great C++ developers I’ve met are still willing to get their hands dirty in other areas.
Tl;dr specialists are (usually) generalists with an attitude problem
(In this case better job means: fixes it the first time, with no new problems after, and the work doesn't feel sloppy unlike the warranty repair I had to have done by the dealer. In the later case they just reattached 2 panels wrong, something a specialist should be able to do without problems)
I can get a job done, even jobs that are fairly complex, and sometimes (I'd wager I'm batting 0.500 for whatever that's worth) those projects do have long legs... But I don't have the sort of depth of skill or command of language and specific tooling that I expected to have at this point in my career. That is what feeds into my feelings.
* For non-job stuff I am a human encyclopedia. Within tech, I am quite resourceful when it comes to the meta, but am never the go-to person for a particular task.
* Did MechE -> CS -> ML.... so have a generalists technical education.
* I have done meaty projects in all of Vision, NLP, ML for systems, Computational social science, HealthML at production/publishable levels.
* I am great a public speaker and have been recommended to do go down the MBA rabbit hole by many people. But, I am too well meaning to play office politics.
The constant feeling of imposter syndrome despite countless assurances becomes grating after a while. The only exception is cooking, and man does it feel good to KNOW that you are good at something. My greatest phobia in life is to be an "all bark, no bite" sort of person. I find anything and everything exciting, so my affliction seems to be permanent.
But, if anyone is in my position; hunker down and get yourself a specialization: a safe space. It will take 2-5 years of full-time work on the exact thing, but then there comes what I presume is a strong sense of competence that you never need to question. After that you have your whole life to generalize. Might be a grass is greener on the other side situation, but my 2 cents.
I assume it will take more time, more selling and sharpen some teeth before getting there. Thanks for the advice and the perspectives of a possible future.
That's a curse and a blessing at my forties.
And I don't know who is more successful, but certainly I can tell that my main disadvantage is the constant, crippling imposter syndrome. Because I know some things about many things, but above all, I know how much I don't know yet.
IMO, that may in fact be an advantage. The biggest pitfall generalists face is Dunning-Krueger. They rush into a new field, think they know everything, and get burned by their overconfidence. Generalists can be very powerful, but only if they understand the boundaries of the unknown unknowns.
That requires a high level of epistemic humility, which often feels like imposter syndrome from the inside.
When things are steady state, learning capacity and adaptability don't really matter. You do the same thing, the same way, every day. When change is in play, and it doesn't matter if that is technical or organizational, those who can learn faster and change behaviors to meet the change are going to outperform.
I once was given a team of interns and newly minted developers. In 90 days, we were able to write an entire new ETL system while the legacy team struggled to just keep their steady-eddie system running. We replaced 10 years of code and a kill and fill system with a fully differential pipeline that reduced load on the upstream system by 98%. Literally from millions of documents to process every night to a few thousand. Why? Our team was hired for capacity to learn and ability to adapt. The old guard was hired for experience and knowledge. Yes, they knew their stuff. The problem was they were not able to deal with change at all. The best part? Most of the team had never even heard of ETL and knew zero SQL.
But, one can speculate that if the situation was reversed, and the interns and newbies were forced to maintain the old system and the old hands were given carte blanche to write a new system, that maybe they wouldn't have been as creative or open-minded about it. Or maybe they'd have deeper insights based on their experience? Who knows?
Algol, in contrast, was backed by many international groups and is described as "an attempt by the theoreticians to greatly improve FORTRAN" (by way of all their great, formalized knowledge and 'wisdom').
The seasoned experts always think they have some secret that the upstarts are missing, a special sauce that no "true solution" built by "true engineers" would be without. And then their overengineered designed by committee and compromise solutions stumble out of the garage and collapse in a heap. Meanwhile, those things built by people more motivated by a desire and a passion than by signaling their expertise soar past and into fields and uses their designers never imagined.
I've seen it a lot and have been on both sides. Newly created teams have a massive advantage when it comes to replacing existing systems because they avoid getting bogged down in the details. However, they do invariably miss implementing key features in the new system, leading to a situation where the new system is better than the old one only 80-90% of the time.
Interesting. I recently designed an executable format that runs on seven operating systems and I've definitely been getting that vibe from a lot of my colleagues. I try not to take it personally since I feel like some ideas can only be discovered and the will of technology often isn't our own.
From a career perspective, you are going to get a lot less opportunities to show off your adaptability without specific (specialized) experience, today, that impacts your career. You need to be in the right place to make an impact, have someone who notices your impact, have a space for you to fill to move up in the hierarchy. These things rarely happen. This is the root of the answer to the question. Specialization wins.
The focus on skills and knowledge is a gross mischaracterization of the problemspace, outside of the article's assumptions and the soft terms "specialization & generalist". It's hard to argue that attractive sociopaths with political connections/wealth (which is a very specialized niche) do the best in American culture by most metrics. Specialization wins.
- Companies really like people who are technically proficient, but who also have good social skills and can hold a room. If you think this might be a limiting factor for you, spend some time out of your comfort zone and work on it. I attribute at least some of my success to working in pubs when I was younger. It seems to me to be at least as important for progression to top roles as raw technical knowledge. High level people are usually people you can get on with.
- You have to get comfortable, early, with being honest when you don't know. Wear the limits of your knowledge on your sleeve: "I'm not sure to be honest, I'll have to get back to you on that" or even "That's not my area to be honest, you'd have to ask X person" are both absolutely valid answers. I've never felt like anyone has thought less of me for this - on the contrary, people really respect it and much prefer it to being BS'd. Make sure you do get back to them, though.
- Complete Udemy courses in your spare time for the fun of it. Python, UX, Game Development, whatever. They're hit and miss, but do it for fun. Do it on a Sunday. You don't need a clear goal in mind. Increasing your base level knowledge like this will go a long way in real world settings, and there is a joy in receiving pleasant surprise from specialist colleagues when you're able to show an appreciation for their field and what it's about.
I'm now bootstrapping my own stuff instead, but I've been offered C-level with equity positions in London at a relatively young age on this path. It's not to be sniffed at. There is at least one clear downside, though:
- You will not experience the joy of having a deep level of expertise and skill with one specific technology or field, the same satisfaction that specialists and academics feel. I can put a web app together and train a model, but I know that I am not an expert at these things and probably never will be. I don't get deep into projects that really get me out of bed in the morning, or that push the bleeding edge of research, and I do wonder what that feels like. Bet it's nice.
What rubs me the wrong way is the false dichotomy like one can only be a specialist or a generalist. It is always presented as if for example chess players would not even know how to eat. There was a joke in the "Top Gear" about "Stig" racing driver that would fall to the ground if taken out of a car.
There is also much more to it because world is complex. For example I am software developer so for business people I am a specialist. But I am also a "full stack developer" where for my fellow developers I am a generalist. Then I mostly specialize in .NET and Angular.
Personally, I feel like T-shaped individuals are a chimera. I don't know anyone whom I'd considered T-shaped. Maybe it's just my location. I have noticed that even the highest placed engineers at my companies, and I'm talking world leaders in certain areas, often do not like to venture even a little bit outside of their specialization.
> For example I am software developer so for business people I am a specialist. But I am also a "full stack developer" where for my fellow developers I am a generalist. Then I mostly specialize in .NET and Angular.
This I can absolutely agree with. I would not call that a T-shaped person; rather, to me, the above is a generalist. I do think that this depends on a point of view. But T-shaped person signifies that a person has one deep specialization. I'd say that having a deep specialization goes against going wide.
From my observation, I've never seen a person who'd have both deep specialization and be comfortable with other technologies on the side.
"I may not be fast, but at least I'm not good."
In a mature market, be a specialist. Be good at one very popular tool, and specifically solving one problem with it, and you'll find a ton of companies willing to pay you a lot in order to solve that one particular problem quickly.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
Thank you for sharing.
I disagree. These people are just specialists in web dev. The knowledge within web development is diverse and actually easy to learn but it does not make you a generalist.
You are a generalist if you have knowledge about different fields within software engineering.
So for example, if you’re good at:
machine learning and writing compilers,
doing operating system development,
front end development with react,
OpenGL/Vulcan development with c++,
then you are a generalist.
Generalists are truly rare. specialists in compiler development are also rare. Specialists in web development are abundant. Practically every show HN is some sort of website.
Does that make every CS student a generalist? No. The generalist must have competent capability to be hired in several of those fields.
I'm not saying they were specialists, I'm saying these people were competent.
Most people are only competent or a specialist in one of these fields.
How many subfields does a mechanical engineer need to be competent in before they can be labeled a generalist?
What about lawyers?
A generalist practitioner in the case of a Doctor isn't really a specialist. You need additional schooling to specialize. So a specialist technically knows more than a "general practitioner" for doctors. For this context, a generalist refers to someone who specialized in more fields than one. So a brain surgeon and a cancer specialist would be more general than someone who only does brain surgery.
>How many subfields does a mechanical engineer need to be competent in before they can be labeled a generalist?
Don't know. It's not formally defined. But it has got to be more than one.
>What about lawyers?
Same as above, I guess.
It is silly to generalize about which is "better" or more likely to succeed because an "ecosystem" will by design contain both so that as a whole the ecosystem is robust to a variety of unforeseen situations (or nothing happening).
In humans you have people who are specialists or generalists, bold or conservative, jay walkers or rule followers, finicky eaters or people who eat pizza that's been on the counter for a week, gamblers or savers, etc, etc. In every case there will be specific examples that make you think "damn I really wish I'd sunk my life savings into BTC 10 years ago!" but that doesn't make you "right" or "wrong" except in hindsight.
Humans (and other populations) should be judged on the spectrum of behaviors they exhibit and how that allows them to succeed in the specific distribution of challenges they face. Judging individuals seems pretty pointless, I guess, unless you are judging yourself and feeling unhappy with the specific tendencies genetics and your upbringing have dealt you. Anyway, just an interesting thing to consider.
Yes, you cannot predict the future precisely, but if you can estimate, that there is an X chance that in the future 70% specialists and 30% generalists are required, and the population will be 50/50 generalist/specialist, then you can make an informed decision which path should you choose if your goal is money/job security.
You may proven to be wrong, you may turn out not to be a good fit at all in your chosen role, but at least you took a calculated risk, instead of gambling.
The way the world knowledge is evolving, there is a blurring of what we call specialist and generalist.
For e.g. If you are a medical researcher, then knowledge of biology, biochemistry, software development (simulation anyone) and maths is required. Now is this specialisation or being generalist?
To me specialists go deeper and solver harder problems. They work on a problem or set of problems in the same space for years together.
Generalists span either multiple disciplines and leverage the connections or have an overview of the field and jump between sub knowledge every couple of years.
And which is better? It all depends on context!
In a space which has higher population of specialist then generalist will be more successful as they will be able to tap into multiple peoples work which a specialist will find harder to do.
In case there are many generalists in a given space then specialisation is the way to go as you can take up problems that generalists will never be able to see or solve.
For me it's all about context.
I long considered myself a generalist because I typically work with early stage startups to get them going and growing, and that requires being competent at many things, wearing many hats. I now position myself as a specialist at growing early stage startups, because that wide of a skillset is exactly what you need to be successful in that context.
In many cases, its about how you frame it.
Seems by that line of thinking today's specialists are tomorrow's generalists, even if they do nothing differently.
T-shaped is largely a made up concept without any real observations, and it sounds good initially but after contemplation it falls apart. One of those urban-legends that keeps circulating in big corps.
T shaped neatly sidesteps any mention of tradeoffs. Have your cake and eat it too! What utter nonsense. Why not Pi shaped or Comb shaped? (google those - they exist).
A professor at a research university is almost certainly more specialized than a science writer, at least insofar as the science is concerned.
Generalists are slightly less compensated, but as long as they keep on top of new areas, they are able to stay relevant and actually stay in the industry. In my case, the VB6 specialists I used to work with still barely make a living with it, but meanwhile I've moved on through VB.NET, C#, and now F#. A deep investment is worthwhile to the industry, but is rarely worthwhile to the developer, and the landscape just changes too fast to make it worthwhile (at least for me).
In careers, there is the “Blessing of Dimensionality.” If you can make yourself good along multiples axes, you can carve a niche out for yourself. Maybe you are a top 20% coder. That alone, may be enough to get you a pretty good job. However, if you also have top 20% people skills, suddenly you have opened a very nice niche for yourself and are a very strong candidate for Director of Engineering or above.
Instead of obsessing about your weakness is a single dimension and worrying about if you are specialist or generalist, develop another dimension of competence.
When we speak about successful generalists, they are still quite specialized. They might know some data analysis (maybe limited by Excel and VB macros), some teamwork skills, some marketing/sales/product ownership knowledge, some competitive intelligence, some understanding of work laws and how to form a company.
Such a person would be considered a generalist, but as I see it, such a person still ignores 99% of fields of study.
I don't think I've ever met anyone who has depth in every field of study, but I don't think this is a fair requirement to be considered a true generalist.
Renaissance man, also called Universal Man, Italian Uomo Universale, an ideal that developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most-accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72), that “a man can do all things if he will.” The ideal embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered man the centre of the universe, limitless in his capacities for development, and led to the notion that men should try to embrace all knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible.
What I meant by generalists, it was a lot of breadth without depth. Like knowing one city from every country, but not knowing more in any. Like knowing one painting from all major artists, but not knowing second and third from anyone. Being able to paint a dog, but not a cat, a man, a castle.
Being such a generalist would not be practical. In fact, it would be useless. Even Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, student of anatomy and engineer. He wasn't archeologist, expert on India, or circus acrobat who can juggle with torches. Da Vinci was specialized too.
What I see in generalists today, are very often general managerial/entrepreneurial skills mixed with some level of expertise in one or two fields. And calling this generalist seems as bad naming practice.
There must be another, better name for this.
Cyrano: I was wandering in a maze
I’d too many complicated paths to take:
I took ...
Le Bret: Which?
Cyrano: Oh! Of them all, the simplest one.
I decided to be brilliant at everything, with everyone!
In software development, business mostly wants good enough. The bulk of the products being developed don’t value top quality, so it’s becoming increasingly pointless to invest into a specialty.
Things can change of course.
But I'm trying to have a more nuanced perspective. My goal is to be a specialist in a couple of practices less likely to change not in the tools that are more likely to change.
For example, as a developer I would want to become a specialist in Object Oriented Design, not in Java/PHP/etc. I might not understand all the nooks and crannies of Java and the JVM but I understand enough to get the work done in 90-95% of cases and I'm comfortable enough to get my hands dirty with the official documentation in order to deliver good work in the rest 10% of cases. Yes it's quite probable that a Java specialist will be more effective than me in those 10%, but having a wider breadth of knowledge makes up for it in other areas of the project.
In my experience I can cover most of my lack of knowledge in a certain tool much quicker if I already have previous experience in switching tools. I'm becoming better in understanding what I can take and apply from my less-specialized expertise and what I need to learn quickly in order to minimize the impact of my "generalism".
Another interesting thing I noticed is a cross-pollination effect, I can bring experience from other tools and provide a completely fresh perspective in solving problems compared to specialists that otherwise wouldn't have even considered some of the new possibilities.
IMHO, there’s far too much compartmentalization in today’s world, and we’re lacking Carl Sagan types who can see threads running through many different fields.
But there are fields where generalists can thrive. Take filmmaking. By nature, it involves story, sound, cinematography, etc. Even just a good story requires some life experience, or at least exposure to a wide range of subjects.
You have to ask whether being the 1% elite of your field is your goal. You can still be much better than average, and pursue a wide variety of interests. Some see those other interests as distractions. But they can wind up being the thing that distinguishes you from everyone else in your field - or gives you the moment of insight that comes from left field.
Einstein didn’t give up the violin and say, “what’s the point?” or, “I need to focus 100% on science.” He drew on it, and it gave his life some balance. Perhaps some of his insights came as a result of that diversion.
The more senior programmer I become (both in age and skills), the less I can actually focus on a single programming task. I am expected to know a metric ton of tooling for 2000 separate purposes. So I learned to quickly master tools just good enough. Same goes for frameworks (which has been to the detriment of the projects sometimes, sadly; there are things you cannot afford to half-ass).
Basically, as a tech generalist and a polyglot, my job is to assemble bricks into walls into houses. Rarely do I get to write the perfect brick or glue. I am much more a plumber and architectural worker than anything else.
So IMO if you are not in a single company for most of your career and want to be competitive, you have to be a generalist.
The biggest issue I have had with people is when they get to a point where they don’t feel they have to learn anything new - “I shouldn’t have to at this point”. Always makes me laugh! You should never stop learning - I’ve seen that attitude pigeonhole and submarine otherwise smart people. If you want to be miserable, just let that mindset start to creep in and dominate your thought processes :/
Master one field, and that advise would have been enough for past generations. But for the present and coming generations the answer is, master one field but have at least some knowledge of other(2-3) fields that you think(from your general knowledge) are important for humanity; and don't let go of your hobby. This is a not so clear-cut answer because that is the reality we live in, it is a very dynamic and competitive world!
So, in today's world it does not help to either be a generalist or a specialist. The ethos should be "Jack of all trades, but master of one"
Some things do come at the cost of others, but I think you'll be surprised how many proficiencies you can come up with in a life well lived.
Yet, today he's probably one of the top five most successful artists of all time, largely for a handful of paintings.
So, when it comes to the arts, it seems like you can do both. Be a generalist, but make at least one work that is a masterpiece.
Now please come up with a measure if an economy is elaborated and functional.
A friend once referred me to a "public transport" measure, which might not be the panacea for defining an economy's success, but it's certainly an interesting take.
I wish I could find the paper / article (I tried), but in essence, the extent to which an economy has implemented effective public transport can be used as a measure of economic success.
Edit: I also completely agree with your first point.
In my mind generalists are more likely to do well with people (whether at selling, persuading or romancing), which can be advantageous - unless your definition of success is becoming an hermit.
- Don't take away data points to find averages you like. When you have a category like "fastest growing successful startups", I want to know how many you looked at. And no, 45 is not unreasonable. Neither is 40. We're dealing with people aged 20-80. But actually, 20 is unlikely because you also put in "successful", which takes a few years to figure out. So like 25-80, with more at the young-ish end of that spectrum.
- "Specialists do not do well as predictors of financial or political trends. Nor are they good at predicting human behavior" is a bad generalization to make on specialists. EVERYONE is bad at predicting human behavior, financial and political trends. EVERYONE. If you think you've found someone who is good at that, I think you've found someone that's good at hiding how much they suck at it. Test them, with specific claims, and usually they reveal they're just as bad as anyone else.
- "Specialists often learn from experience" - of course they do. So do generalists. Also, so do you.
- "Inspiration is everywhere", hey, on that I agree. Inspiration is indeed everywhere.
- "What can do you to thrive in such a world?" - The author recommends all sorts of things, most of which are quite silly. Reading books every day? GREAT! Read magazines that cater to different hobbyists? Less useful. Listen to music from another country? I suppose... if you want. Learning about motor cycle racing and polymers? Again, if you want. But it's implied that this is somehow beneficial to your career, which it almost never is.
I know a bunch of biology, a smattering of physics, plenty of skeptical stuff, a touch of programming, little bits about music and cultures around the world, an enormous number of trivial things. I know those things because of my history, my experiences, and my curiosity. I am no better at predicting human behavior or economic markets than the world leading chess experts. And I'm no more likely to succeed at making a startup than someone who doesn't know about ancient tea and black powder muzzle loaders.
He borrows Hedgehog vs Fox from Isiah Berlin
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth - by Buckminster Fuller
Just the first chapter will blow your mind.
Link to the full book: https://www.amazon.com/Operating-Manual-Spaceship-Buckminste...
However, I do relay on some specialists in my Team to fulfill other demands.
For me, a good Team had both.