I am a self proclaimed generalist. And proud of it.
But … I admit … it’s kind of tough in a world that has become quite enthralled with specialists. Or maybe better said “being really good at one thing.”
Unfortunately for me the one thing I am good at is a combination of a wide variety of things and experience. Some even contradictory things. (that is basically what a generalist is)
The hard thing about being a generalist is even if you give in to the specialist trappings (for example, “ok. ok. This is the one thing I am good at”) you get screwed because you aren’t a specialist. Therefore there will always be someone more of a “specialist” at what you are claiming (because you aren’t really a specialist). Whew. That circular discussion (doom loop) tired even me out.
I find that these are the types of discussions I get trapped in:
What’s the one industry you have the most experience in?
I can’t name one.
So why would we hire you if you don’t have depth of experience in our industry?
Because I am a generalist and I know how to apply learnings from “there” to “here”.
Don’t you think a specialist would be more effective?
I don’t know. I would imagine it depends on the situation and problem to be solved.
How come you never specialized in anything?
I don’t know. I guess I never had to.
Don’t you think specialists know what they want more than a generalist?
I don’t know. I am not a specialist. I would hate to put words in their mouth. But in general (as a generalist) I believe their choice has made them miss a lot in life.
Why would we choose a generalist over a specialist?
Breadth of experience and expertise? (I answer hopefully).
Don’t you feel at a disadvantage not having a specialty?
Well. I actually do have a specialty. That is transferring learning from seemingly unrelated situations to offer solutions to the situation I am posed with. But. I guess my only disadvantage is that no one wants to call that a specialty.
Ok. What is the one thing you are really good at?
(See last answer).
Ok. At parties I can pretty much contribute to any conversation I am included in. Oh. And I am not unique … most generalists thrive anywhere they go conversation-wise.
We don’t have parties here.
Ok <note: I need a cocktail … strong one>.
So let me try this. You have worked at a lot of large advertising agencies so would you say your strength is advertising?
Well. That is tricky. I was in account service and strategy groups. We actually didn’t do a lot of advertising (although I do believe I can judge effective advertising) because other people did that. I actually know more about organizational behavior and product development and positioning companies in the marketplace and why people do things that they do than I do about advertising.
So. I guess the short answer is. No. I don’t believe my strength is in advertising.
But you have spent your career in ad agencies?
Yup. That is correct.
Well. I am confused.
Well. Interestingly so am I now. But. Let me tell you what I think.
I think you need a generalist for this role and frankly I think you want a generalist but you only know how to judge specialists.
Generally speaking I don’t know what to say next.
What I do know is whatever you ask me I bet I know enough about it to be able to give you a reasonable answer.
(Note: Unless you ask me why the sky is blue. I have always struggled with that one. But I do believe it has to do with light refracting off the nitrogen in the air or something like that).
So. I sign off for now … a specialist in generalism.