Many of us have been told that deep expertise will lead to enhanced credibility, rapid job advancement, and escalating incomes. The alternative of being broad-minded is usually dismissed as dabbling without really adding value.
But the future may be very different: Breadth of perspective and the ability to connect the proverbial dots (the domain of generalists) is likely to be as important as depth of expertise and the ability to generate dots (the domain of specialists).
The rapid advancement of technology, combined with increased uncertainty, is making the most important career logic of the past counterproductive going forward. The world, to put it bluntly, has changed, but our philosophy around skills development has not.
Today’s dynamic complexity demands an ability to thrive in ambiguous and poorly defined situations, a context that generates anxiety for most, because it has always felt safer to generalize.
Just think about some of the buzzwords that characterized the business advice over the past 40 to 50 years: Core competence, unique skills, deep expertise. For as far back as many of us can remember, the key to success was developing a specialization that allowed us to climb the professional ladder.
It wasn’t enough to be a doctor, one had to specialize further, perhaps in cardiology. But then it wasn’t enough to be a cardiologist, one had to specialize further, perhaps as a cardiac surgeon. And it wasn’t just medicine, it was in almost all professions.
The message was clear: Focus on developing an expertise and you’ll rise through the ranks and earn more money. The approach worked. Many of today’s leaders ascended by specializing.