The Competitive Advantages of Generalists

Generally speaking, we live in a world that honors the specialist.  We can fine tune our food, media, and careers to fit in a niche that is most rewarding to us and either ignore our outsource the rest.  There are highly respected (and compensated) chefs who only cook sauces, software engineers who just work with 1980s databases, and pundits who thrive on extolling a singular perspective.  We are a culture of best of breed, connoisseur, and specialist.

In the face of this specialization and niche-seeking, I say that it’s the generalists who actually bring the competitive advantage (and have the most fun).  So, why be a digital generalist?  Glad you asked.

  • A background in a variety of related fields offers an opportunity to inform business decisions.  It’s valuable to have a software developer who understands the marketing side of business.  Your application may be more user friendly, or better represent your brand because of the decisions made by a software developer.  Or, having a designer who knows how to craft an interface that can be produced into an application in a straightforward way can result in cost savings and a more thoughtful user experience.
  • Knowledge of different digital disciplines allows you to pick the best one for the job.  There is an old adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  There are many similar technologies out there, and having experience working with several different approaches to the same business problem allows a generalist to pick the right one for the job.  Should you use Flash or JavaScript? Joomla or WordPress? Native or compiled application? Knowing about multiple technologies gives me the perspective to help clients make appropriate business decisions that are in their best interests (and not just in my comfort zone).
  • A generalist knows when to bring in a specialist (and how to choose a good one).  Having a familiarity with a specialty allows a generalist to develop an appreciation for the value a specialist can bring.  Moreover,  as a generalist, I can help clients to determine both when there will be an advantage to bringing in a new team member, and make the relationship with the specialist even more productive.
  • Working with a generalist can yield specialized results.  Generalists are typically people who have a natural curiosity and can see connections that may not be apparent to true specialists.  For example, I find that understanding a company’s branding can influence how that same company’s website should be developed, or how a press release should be crafted.  All that ensures that the resulting communication feels more customized, more specialized for that client.
  • Generalists have more fun.  Being a generalist broadens the group of people with whom you can interact.  Can I talk intelligently with an information architect? Yes.  Give creative feedback that is on point? You betcha.  Strike up conversation with a developer about software design patterns? Sure. And, having these different perspectives helps me to keep a sharp mind and look for new opportunities to grow. What’s more fun than that?

Digital Generalists are creative, curious people who can draw from a breadth of experience to help solve problems.  That’s not to say that I don’t like to indulge in speciality products.  Check out my pantry or music collection sometime.  And, you’ll even find that I have a few specialty areas in the digital domain.  But, you’ll also see that I’m a developer who is a great event planner, and a designer who’s a stickler for good grammar.  It’s an eclectic mix that, in general, yields valuable results.

In future posts, I’ll continue to explore the concept of being a generalist, and in particular how this applies to the field of digital media.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Competitive Advantages of Generalists | Digital Generalists | Generalist Managers | Scoop.it - February 16, 2013

    […] In the face of this specialization and niche-seeking, I say that it's the generalists who actually bring the competitive advantage (and have the most fun). So, why be a digital generalist? Glad you asked.  […]

  2. The Competitive Advantages of Generalists | Digital Generalists | human resources generalist | Scoop.it - February 22, 2013

    […] In the face of this specialization and niche-seeking, I say that it's the generalists who actually bring the competitive advantage (and have the most fun). So, why be a digital generalist? Glad you asked.  […]

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