In many businesses, some professionals are specialists and others are generalists. The specialists own a set of specific skills; while the generalists have knowledge of a number of different areas of the business. Professionals should determine if they prefer to become a generalist or a specialist or try to be both, as companies decide where to focus their hiring decisions.
According to author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a specific discipline. The specialists are professionals who dedicate their time and effort necessary to become experts in one aspect of a particular business. For example, some doctors specialize in a specific area of medicine, such as hand and wrist surgery. The advantage of hiring a specialist is that the person is a true expert in the field, with a deep understanding of the nuances of a particular problem. When a company needs a professional with a skill far above average, in specific aspects of a project, it will hire a specialist to fill that role.
A generalist is a person without deep knowledge in the area, but with a broad knowledge of multiple areas. For example, some doctors are general practitioners, capable of dealing with a wide range of medical problems but not specialists in one type of medicine. The most important aspect of being a generalist is the ability to see the intersection between different aspects of the business. For example, it is not useful to know a little about design and a little about marketing if you have no idea how design problems affect marketing considerations and vice versa. Most companies do not have the budget or workload dedicated to hiring specialists, so they employ generalists with a wider range of skills.
People in the shape of T
Some organizations prefer to hire people called “T-shape”. This type of professional has a broad knowledge and competence of a generalist (represented by the horizontal line of the T), as well as the specialized knowledge of a teacher in a given field, represented by the vertical line of the T. Assuming that you must have 10,000 hours of practice dedicated to mastering any skill, T-shaped professionals have to work harder to achieve their goals. They have to do what it takes to become experts and get a broad understanding of specialities different from their own. Their ability to generalize or specialize when necessary makes them highly valuable employees.
When deciding whether to hire a specialist or generalist, the main question is whether there is enough specialized work to keep a specialist busy. A professional well paid, with nothing to do and no possibility of changing it to a different task is an economic burden. Companies usually hire specialists only in a particular area if they constantly have enough work in that area to keep the specialist working full time. If this is not the case, it is better for the company to hire generalists.