Why Being a Specialist Can Hurt Your Career Success


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We have long been told to maximize our professional value. We should focus our efforts on getting really good at something.

In short, there was specialization. With few exceptions, the most sought-after professionals in their fields were those who excelled in their fields. The very best engineers were the ones who got the jobs at Apple and Tesla. The very best quants were the ones who got the jobs at Renaissance and SAC. The best chefs worked at Noma and at Per Se. This maxim applied in most areas, and so people were encouraged to become it Yes, really good in one area at the expense of all others. In fact, specialization took place within specialization. You weren’t an engineer anymore – you were a DevOps engineer. You were no longer a chef – you were a pastry chef. And any time spent not perfecting that one subject was a waste of time.

Related: Is Focusing on a Specific Niche Really That Important?

And while these individuals have historically been paid well, that doesn’t always seem to be the case lately. Nowadays, categorizing your talents into a specialty can actually get in the way of recognition, awards, and the associated windfall. Why is that? Neither Steve Jobs nor Elon Musk were the best engineers in their organizations. They weren’t the best managers either. Or the best designers. Or really the best at anything. However, they have developed a high level of expertise in several, often very different, areas of knowledge. There are few out there like Steve Jobs, who was both a gifted designer, a product visionary, an incredible talent spotter, and an inspirational (if difficult) manager.

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Oddly enough, our educational system and cultural fabric often encourage people to get really good at something at the expense of everything else. Meanwhile, studies suggest that those who represent a variety of interests perform best in entrepreneurship, science and the arts. This practice, known as skill stacking, shows that being in the top 10% on several completely different skills is far more unusual than being in the top 1% on a single skill. The more diverse the skills, the less likely you are to find people who reflect the same combination of expertise. Not only can this make a person unique in terms of what they can do, but they are also more willing to look at problems and situations from a unique perspective. While most computer entrepreneurs approached it with a technical background, Jobs approached it with both a technical and a design perspective. In turn, he was able to build something that those with a narrower technical frame of reference simply weren’t equipped to do.

Therefore, the recipe for any aspiring world-shattering entrepreneur is a simple two-pronged process of first embracing the existing diversity of interests and then going one step further to cultivate new interests with intent.

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Related: Why being a specialist in your field is not enough in today’s rapidly evolving work environment

Embrace your diverse interests

When speaking to aspiring entrepreneurs, all too often they admit, without a shred of shame, that they also have hobbies that don’t seem directly related to the business they’re building. They are quick to assure me that they rarely engage in these hobbies, during brief moments of downtime from the all-consuming endeavor of building their business. It’s hard not to grimace when you hear this all-too-common refrain. Even if it’s not always immediately obvious, it’s often these I agree Interests that help inform the core of what makes their product different and special. A fintech entrepreneur with a passing interest in human behavioral psychology will almost certainly expect the latter to influence their product vision in ways that are crucial to distinguishing themselves from their peers. Differing interests do not stand in the way of success. Instead, they are often a key reason for success.

Commit to learning something new

Almost everyone has some hobby that they put off for a long time because they just “don’t have enough time. Between our businesses, our friends, family and whatever other commitments we can accommodate, there are never enough hours in the day. For a hardworking Under the constant barrage of frantic culture propaganda, the idea of ​​spending five hours a week learning something unrelated to their business can feel criminal. Every entrepreneur should break away from this notion and commit to at least five hours a week investing in something they’ve wanted to do but have put off for a long time. At worst, these investments will give the mind a much-needed respite from the work of building a business. At best, you will learn things and have aha moments that inform what is built and lead to important differentiators with an almost surprising frequency.

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As entrepreneurs, we all have ambitions to build life-changing businesses. But truly innovative, original ideas are hard to come by. Many smart people focus their energies on inventing the next big thing. Someone who’s spent every waking moment studying finance isn’t as likely to be thinking of anything completely different as the tens of thousands of others who have been doing the same thing. But let’s say the same person has spent time in finance alongside interpretive dance, social psychology, and architecture. In this case, they are far more likely to have a perspective shared by few, if any, others. These other aspects of her life will inevitably impact her approach to building a piece of fintech.

So the next time you feel guilty about picking up a psychology treatise or signing up for interpretive dance class, realize that these things aren’t distractions, they may very well be the path to realizing your entrepreneurial dreams.



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