The Deep Generalist

Should you be a specialist, or a generalist?

Should you go as deep as possible on one topic? Or learn as broadly as possible?

There's no easy answer. It’s different for different people.

Personally, I don’t have the patience to become a specialist. 

I’m too curious about too many things to ever be happy working in one field, on a specific topic.

There is one concept that has always appealed to me though.

There are lots of names for it: polymath, generalized specialist, deep generalist, t-shaped marketer.

The idea is that you learn deeply in a couple areas. 

You combine that expertise with some general knowledge to form a unique bank of knowledge and skills. 

You may not be an expert in each area, or any area, but the combination makes you unique.

A key part of this idea is the amount of time required to develop expertise. 

While it may take a lifetime to reach the top of one field, you can get close to the top in two unique fields in a much quicker amount of time.

The concept of a t-shaped marketer is similar. 

You’re expected to have a broad knowledge of all the skills required for marketing, and then specialize in one area. 

You can do all kinds of things when required, but can go back to a specific area as your team grows, for example.

There's no easy answer for the question of how specialized you should be.

Some skills take longer than others to master.

It’s difficult to evaluate what percentile of a field you are in, or what’s necessary to move up.

Some skills and knowledge will become obsolete.

But for someone like me, who may never be a specialist, the idea of the deep generalist provides a useful framework for evaluating my own skills. 

And ultimately, it helps me position myself in the modern professional world.