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The specialist vs. the generalist

Entrepreneurs and people in general have to decide whether they should grow to become specialists in a dedicated field, or whether they should spread themselves and become generalists. I would like to argue that unless you would like to live in academia, or hope to one day present a TED talk, that becoming a generalist will increase your chances of being successful – especially as an entrepreneur.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you have opted to become a generalist, that being a specialist is not wrong and that you shouldn’t associate yourself with them. On the contrary, you should know as many as you possibly can. Specialists are the individuals that drive innovation and progress in their various disciplines and therefore they will be the de facto go-to people for queries around their respective subjects. Specialists also have access to key people in their respective networks that could prove to be drivers of execution.

However, it’s often better being the person who knows the people that know the important people in a network than it is being that very person. The reason for this is the opportunity cost of the specialization. To be in the significant percentile of importance, your time will have to be exclusively dedicated to a subject. This automatically means that your progress in the necessary, peripheral subjects of your endeavor will suffer, which could very well mean that your endeavor will fail because of it.

As an entrepreneur, you have to reserve time for a whole list of things – hiring, testing, client liaising, development, financing, administration, funding, communicating with employees etc. These things are all the more crucial if you are a startup or in the early stages of development. Sacrificing time for specialization is a highly risky move.

Being the person that knows the gateway people to various social networks means that you have a good Eigenvector centrality, which is basically the metric used to measure your importance as a connecting node within a network. A good Eigenvector centrality means that you have better access to different resources. Be a generalist that knows many specialists and you’ll have access to many different disciplines and subsequent experts.

Another benefit of being a generalist from a sociological perspective is that because inherently you’ll be involved in many different practices, you’ll have to, or will invariably be exposed to new people, which will minimize your chances of isolation from various networks.

In addition, being a generalist will also mean that you will grow to have a formidable and varied skill set. If you have ties to different people in different networks, you could be a problem solver in passing, which translates to the probability that you will receive assistance in return in future.

Generalists, because they’re forced to learn different things, are molded into the state-of-mind that allows them to adapt to changing circumstances better. This is extremely beneficial for bootstrapping entrepreneurs as things usually change at a hurried pace and it’s usually the adapters that come out on top.



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