Yes this post is inspired from a random, YouTube-suggested revisit to the best dialogues of a terrific film that left its impression on me at a very young age, Fight Club. The particular quote that inspires this might be looked upon as a rather negative and dark point of view to affiliate to – “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap” (Chuck Palahniuk). Instead of probing the actual content and its meaning, I will try to see the quote in context of the current corporate ecosystem and the timeless ‘Specialist vs. Generalist’ debate.
On my relatively short career path, I’ve come across quite a lot of people and a lot more advice (hell lot!!); and I’ve realised that we all want to be or are told to be “unique”. Rather, we have to be unique. The competitive nature of the market demands from us a ‘specialist’ CV; and we confine ourselves to a particular category of expertise at very young ages on the misjudged (pardon the judgement) rationale of opportunity rather than interest. Everyone wants to make unique career choices and be the best at what they do. Everybody wants to be a niche. So much so, that the niche is becoming the mass. Everybody wants to stand out. Nobody wants to fit in. But can we all succeed in doing so?
In our ambitious quests to become unique assets for organisations (and pocket lofty salaries), we tend to undervalue the ‘breadth’ of knowledge. In comes The Generalist; the jack of all trades who knows a little bit about a lot. This highly adaptable breed of people can ‘fit in’ to multiple ecosystems and mould themselves to a variety of situations. Be the round peg and the square peg. Generalists are the people who contextualize things, put things into perspective. And in today’s data-driven market this is going to be a necessary skill to have.
Now question is how do we achieve this breadth of knowledge? By exploring a variety of subject areas and industries we can gain perspective and choose a specialized field later on in our careers. But will the market afford us such time? Not now, but eventually. In a time where the workforce is becoming a mass of highly specialized resources, maybe a Generalist label might help you to Stand Out, adapt and most importantly survive.
The point I am trying to make is that it is okay to not be a specialist in a particular field. Especially for young people like me who have room to explore..and fail. The industry is always going to need untrained minds that can be moulded; minds that can understand the broader fabric of things rather than be confined by vast one-dimensional knowledge. So, if you cannot stand out… fit in!