Tue, Nov 13, 2018

The Curse of the Specialist, T-Shaped Person, and Generalist

Regardless who you are – be it a specialist (someone who knows a lot about a little), one of the fabled unicorn-esque t-shaped people (who are specialists, but also generalists) or a pure generalist (“miles wide and inches deep”) – most of us deal with some form of self-doubt and question (at least from time to time) our own value.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while now. I am surely no specialist. And maybe not even a t-shaped person (I know a bit about software but would lose my ground quite quickly if pitted against a second-semester computer science major). Which leaves me in the dreaded “generalist” category – no good at anything. And yet I seem to have found my niche. As do everyone else I know – regardless if they are narrow or broad in their knowledge.

Which brings me to my point. I think these classifications are bullshit. The question is not “which type of person am I” but rather “can I get the job done” and “do I enjoy doing this kind of work.” Which also means that you should drop the labels when you hire and rather than looking for the magic “T,” focus on finding people who can do what needs to be done. And do so consistently. And please stop labeling people. Labels are oversimplifications, in pretty much all cases useless and often disrespectful for the fellow human being labeled.

For all of you who fret that they are no specialists, don’t know how to code or edit your DNA – fret not. Focus on the many things which make you unique and good at what you are doing, and you’ll be fine. No. You will be more than fine.

And for you specialists out there – keep doing what you’re doing. The world needs you and your gifts.

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