Environments with more competition breed more specialists. Rainforests, for example, are chock-o-block full of diversity and competition for survival, which results in hundreds of thousands of highly specialized species. Silicon Valley, New York City and most of the other highly-productive, highly-competitive business landscapes, operate similarly. Instead of countless species of spider, the modern workforce has become a highly specialized mass of MicroNuclear Physicists, Fiber Optics Engineers and Java Developers who all function brilliantly when conditions are perfect.
But what happens when the ecosystem shifts?
Despite the corporate world’s insistence on specialization, the workers most likely to come out on top are generalists—but not just because of their innate ability to adapt to new workplaces, job descriptions or cultural shifts. Instead, according to writer Carter Phipps, author of 2012’s Evolutionaries, generalists will thrive in a culture where it’s becoming increasingly valuable to know “a little bit about a lot.” Meaning that where you fall on the spectrum of specialist to generalist could be one of the most important aspects of your personality—and your survival in an ever-changing workplace....
Only by understanding the work within fields to the right and the left of your own can you understand the bigger picture, he says, whether you’re talking about a corporation (sales analysts understanding the supply chain as well as internal operations) or the world as a whole. “We’ve become so focused on specialization, but just as there are truths that can only be found as a specialist,” he says, “There are truths that can only be revealed by a generalist who can weave these ideas in the broader fabric of understanding.”