Scott H Young

Specializing VS Generalizing


Some of the comments in my last article about generalizing skills, brought up the dilemma many people face when building skills. Should you become a jack of all trades but master of none, or become wickedly proficient at one skill without involving yourself in others? There are a lot of different ways to look at this problem, each offering different answers.

If you look at the area of your life, it doesn’t make sense to specialize. What is the point of becoming extremely good in your financial life if your health, relationships or spirituality are in the dumps? Balance across all areas of your life is essential, so specialization here doesn’t really work.

Looking through the lens of business advice, I’ve heard a lot of strong support for becoming highly specialized. If you are getting heart surgery you want the doctor that is an expert in heart surgery, not someone who knows a little about surgery, a little about carpentry and a little about accounting. Specialization in business or career focuses is very important.

In a world with other people, specializing in a particular field gives you skills that are marketable. Becoming an expert gives you a level of skill few people have. From this high level of skill you can use it to help others and earn a living. Specialization is a key aspect that makes our economic and societal system work.

The model I’ve found best to help remedy the dilemma of specialization versus generalization is the “T” model. Through this model your aim is to have a moderate amount of skill in a broad range of areas (the top of the ‘T’) and to have a lot of skill in a select few fields (the column of the ‘T’). Hat tip to Ben Casnocha for pointing me to this idea.

You should specialize in areas that you can use to help others. Become an expert in a field that is greatly demanded by other people. If your expertise isn’t needed by other people, then it is a wasted talent. It may have a lot of personal value to yourself, but if it doesn’t have any social value to others it can’t really help you.

Skills you need to have some general aptitude within are core skills. Self-discipline, communication and courage. Some skills you might want a small amount of skill just to augment your specialty. Steve Pavlina became a successful personal development author because he augmented his online business skills with his personal development skills.

If you are young, like myself, you may not yet have mastery in any areas. I’ve decided to pick out the skills that I want to specialize in and those that I only want to have a general understanding. By forming a T you can maintain inner balance in your life while becoming wickedly proficient in contributing back to society.

So should you specialize or generalize? The answer is both. Pick a field you have some talent in that is needed by others and specialize in it. All the areas of your life that can’t be delegated you should maintain a small threshold of skill to get you by. Skills take a lot of resources to build, so you can’t be a master at everything, but if you choose wisely you can become skilled at enough.


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13 Responses to “Specializing VS Generalizing”

  1. Scott,

    Great way to break down a major issue into a simple solution. I really like this part: “If your expertise isn’t needed by other people, then it is a wasted talent.”

    I am a FIRM advocate of people only doing things that they WANT to do. However, the trick to making money by doing what you want to do is to find a way to translate that thing into a product or a service that people will actually pay for.

    Otherwise, you are just spinning your wheels.

  2. Scott Young says:

    Aaron,

    The key is to find both, not either/or. You need to find the area where your talents and desires mesh with others needs.

  3. […] I read a great twist on the idea of focus from Scott Young. In his article Specializing Vs. Generalizing, he talks about using the “T” method of balancing focus and generalization. […]

  4. […] Now, while we know that having that much knowledge will definitely get you laid at some point, can you really do what this man did, metaphorically? I mean, is it possible for an average human being to know so much about so many things and still maintain acceptable level of human sanity? (ok you caught me, any man who grows this much hair isn’t sane in my book, maybe it was a different time, but I stand corrected!) This is a question of specialization vs generalization. In other words, how much should you learn about each skill or set of skills in your life including, but not limited to, your job skills? An interesting post by Scott Young addresses this trade off with a neat little visualization called the “T” model. The idea is originally suggested by Ben Casnocha. In a nutshell: Through this model your aim is to have a moderate amount of skill in a broad range of areas (the top of the ‘T’) and to have a lot of skill in a select few fields (the column of the ‘T’) […]

  5. […] Specializing vs Generalizing by Scott H YoungIs it better to be a specialist or a generalist? This is an important question, especially in this fast-changing world. Scott gives you a good insight using the “T” model he got from Ben Casnocha. […]

  6. Todd says:

    Hey Scott,

    I really like your article and idea. The only thing that i think it kink of seems to miss is inter-related skills. There are plenty of them that would really support each other without sacrificing either.

    I guess that’s sort of out there a bit, but just a thought. =D

    -Todd

  7. Scott Young says:

    Todd,

    Some skills do help each other, but the point of the article is that you need to use the T model simply because it takes too long and too much energy to have a high degree of skill in everything. You will end up having several skills that you have mastery of and a lot of skills with just a basic coverage.

  8. […] Scott Young presents Specializing VS Generalizing Ruth Mitchell presents Which Are You? Work or Play First? Patricia presents Immediate Gratification David presents What Leads to Success? Phil B. presents Money Can Not Buy Happiness Albert Foong presents Tools: Forgiveness Part One Amy Donovan presents Positive Psychology, Party of Two John presents What it?s all about? Vahid Chaychi presents The First Step to Start an Online Work at Home Business Charles H. Green presents Trust Tip 35: Reciprocity, Sales and Suicide Hot Lines Christine Kane presents Why Your Ego Loves Airline Delays Albert Foong presents The Misery and World Peace Viruses […]

  9. […] model to the ideas I gather through the books I’m reading. For those of you who missed my post on specializing versus generalizing, the “T” model basically says that you should have a smaller vertical area of expertise and a […]

  10. […] it’s not just software programmers who have this debate, even designers and productivity specialists […]

  11. […] Young guy named Scott Young who has and a nice perspective on being like a “T” (airplane pose / Dekasana / Virabhadrasana III anyone?) http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2007/02/08/specializing-vs-generalizing/ […]

  12. […] it’s not just software programmers who have this debate, even designers and productivity specialists […]

  13. […] Young guy named Scott Young who has and a nice perspective on being like a “T” (airplane pose / Dekasana / Virabhadrasana III anyone?) http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2007/02/08/specializing-vs-generalizing/ […]

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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