Success is often the combination of knowing a lot about one thing, while also knowing a little about a lot of things. It’s about understanding the value of being a generalist and also being an expert. Many times though, we can only opt to be on one side of the fence or the other.
In business, often times people are referred to as generalists. These are the general managers who touch multiple functions, work with multiple teams and work across boundaries and geographies. On the other hand, companies also have specialists. These are the consultants who know a lot about their industry, sector, business unit, or specific task at hand. There is not always a clear cut answer on which one is the preferred route. Even in business school.
Deep knowledge and understanding of a topic surely helps you in a variety of ways. It helps you create better analyses. You gain more access to the numbers. You refine your ability to understand how a particular system works. And once you do that, you can begin to master other similar topics with overlapping content.
At the same time, it’s impossible to become CEO or political leader without also being aware of the wider world. That’s because we have countless interactions with people from different backgrounds, geographies, interests and beliefs as we navigate our daily lives.
On the other hand, the problem today is that the world is getting bigger every single day. The Internet makes the large world larger than ever and for now, it continues to expand. There is also more news available and more issues that we have access to given the world wide web. And there is no way to manage it all. So how can you remain a generalist today?
It’s tempting to spend ever more time pursuing that goal. On the other hand, being an expert hasn’t changed. It’s still equally as hard as it used to be. But still doable?
Which one should we pursue?
Does it make a difference if you have a high paying job or low one?
Does it matter if you have an MBA or a JD?
Every single person still has to answer the question.