Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Specializing at becoming a generalist

I always had this feeling that I was not good at anything. What I mean is being really good at something, being an expert, master or shihan of it. People who are experts in a specific field have always been target of my appreciation. At the same time, I feel like knowing and being capable at doing various things as well is very attractive, something I reflect about myself.

Innovation, being a critical competitive advantage, is the creative combination of various kinds of knowledge. To bring up innovation, the breadth of the knowledge and expertise base should be large enough. On top of that, these compounds should have a bonding feature which that is a general applicable type within the various shapes and sizes of input.

Specialized experts have the benefit of deep knowledge in the area of their expertise, although missing the breadth of the knowledge universe. Vice versa, generalists have the advantage of broad expertise, with a limited deep-diving skill in each topic. Generalists are called as “jack of all trades”, with lots of various abilities. At school times we had seen multiple subjects from humanities & natural sciences. Once shifting to university, we had to narrow down our focus to a very special field and trade off learning other areas. After landing a job, the specialization process got amplified even more.

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

We should not make a choice between these two. Instead we should create the best of both worlds. In product management, one should have a deep knowledge in one of the fields (design, tech, business) but also be informed and actually good at the other two as well. Moreover, being good at multiple areas at the same time is itself a specialization one can adopt. This specialized ‘average’ expertise opens up completely new realms of solutions and ideas. By studying different knowledge branches, we do realize that the foundation of those branches are the same and can be extended and integrated into different context as well. Being able to transmit the idea to a different field is an important skill in innovation.

To be able to specialize in generalization, learning is the key. When the learning itself is the target skill to practice, namely if we learn how to become a good learner, we can specialize in any field relatively fast.

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