Some of the comments in my last article about generalizing skills, brought up the dilemma many people face when building skills. Should you become a jack of all trades but master of none, or become wickedly proficient at one skill without involving yourself in others? There are a lot of different ways to look at this problem, each offering different answers.
If you look at the area of your life, it doesn’t make sense to specialize. What is the point of becoming extremely good in your financial life if your health, relationships or spirituality are in the dumps? Balance across all areas of your life is essential, so specialization here doesn’t really work.
Looking through the lens of business advice, I’ve heard a lot of strong support for becoming highly specialized. If you are getting heart surgery you want the doctor that is an expert in heart surgery, not someone who knows a little about surgery, a little about carpentry and a little about accounting. Specialization in business or career focuses is very important.
In a world with other people, specializing in a particular field gives you skills that are marketable. Becoming an expert gives you a level of skill few people have. From this high level of skill you can use it to help others and earn a living. Specialization is a key aspect that makes our economic and societal system work.
The model I’ve found best to help remedy the dilemma of specialization versus generalization is the “T” model. Through this model your aim is to have a moderate amount of skill in a broad range of areas (the top of the ‘T’) and to have a lot of skill in a select few fields (the column of the ‘T’). Hat tip to Ben Casnocha for pointing me to this idea.
You should specialize in areas that you can use to help others. Become an expert in a field that is greatly demanded by other people. If your expertise isn’t needed by other people, then it is a wasted talent. It may have a lot of personal value to yourself, but if it doesn’t have any social value to others it can’t really help you.
Skills you need to have some general aptitude within are core skills. Self-discipline, communication and courage. Some skills you might want a small amount of skill just to augment your specialty. Steve Pavlina became a successful personal development author because he augmented his online business skills with his personal development skills.
If you are young, like myself, you may not yet have mastery in any areas. I’ve decided to pick out the skills that I want to specialize in and those that I only want to have a general understanding. By forming a T you can maintain inner balance in your life while becoming wickedly proficient in contributing back to society.
So should you specialize or generalize? The answer is both. Pick a field you have some talent in that is needed by others and specialize in it. All the areas of your life that can’t be delegated you should maintain a small threshold of skill to get you by. Skills take a lot of resources to build, so you can’t be a master at everything, but if you choose wisely you can become skilled at enough.
Filed Under: Career, DisciplineTagged With: learning, strategy
As addictive as business week (a big timewaste) or gmatclub mba forums have been during the application process, I guess its time to move on to the next part. After putting months into figuring out the right career objective statements etc and then getting the final admit, I am more interested in reading what current students have to say – to figure out what mistakes not to make. And thus I came across this genuinely insightful post from Orlando.
My Dad says your value doesn’t depend as much on what you do as it does on how well you do whatever it is that you do. Going an extra step and paying attention to details start becoming increasingly important. It also raises a important concern – how much specialization should I aim for? It becomes a trade off between playing safe and showing extra confidence in yourself.
Going back to Class XI, I took both Biology and Mathematics because I wanted to keep both options open (Indians would understand). By some luck and extra effort, I cracked both Medical and Engineering entrance exams in India. But at this point, I had to make a choice. Now lets see, what did I gain – ability to hedge my position (a backup which makes me laugh now, I was backing up my option to be a doctor by another to become an engineer! I know how ridiculous it sounds now. These streams are world apart, one shouldn’t just become a doctor because he couldn’t be an engineer and vice versa. But forgive me for rambling, that is the issue with Indian society and education system, I’ll save it for some other post.) What did I lose? – I could have cracked a better exam if I had focused on only one stream. And I know whole ‘entrance exam’ mania in India is also crazy but just a point that if I was focused enough, I could have gone to a better college.
Why am I wondering now? All the major B schools provide specializations for MBA. Stern allows up to 3, same for Kellogg and so on. Even if you don’t target specialization per se, I am talking about taking electives. Obviously there are limited electives you can take, so how would you want to spread it out? I was talking to a Media professional who is an MBA and very very interested in sports like me. He said sports management is such a niche field that even if the school provided it as a major, he wouldn’t have taken it. Thankfully Media Management has outgrown that size and is more of a mainstream option now. It is my intended field of specialization as of now. But for others, I am not so sure. Is it better to combine it with marketing or consulting etc etc.
Anyways, here are some questions that fellow MBA applicants or students may be able to answer more intelligently-
- How do employers view your electives? What is the criteria for initial interview selection?
- How does it impact overall job hunt?
- Will a marketing company be reluctant to hire you if you didn’t specialize in Marketing but only took few electives?
- For eg. there is a course called Corporate Finance in Media and a generic Corporate Finance course. By taking the former, I might be more lucrative to a Media employer (will I be?) but I might miss out on other firms?
I am just wondering whats the best approach and I understand it will be subjective. So, any ‘lessons learned’ or comments from existing students would be awesome. Also, whats the take of other applicants. Sometimes, the jack can outweigh the master.