Iesha Small
use your uniqueness to add value

Exploring education, society, leadership and how to design a meaningful life.

Specialising vs diversifying

Don’t be the best in one world. Be pretty decent in a few.

Sadly, I no longer have as many teeth as this (taken at home).

The specialist’s specialist

I had a tooth taken out recently. Probably the long term effect of loving sweets but hating dental floss.

I spoke to my surgeon, Hannah, before the procedure and it turned out she was slightly more than a dentist.

“Are you a maxillofacial surgeon?” I asked once she’d explained a little.

“No.” She replied, “I did previously work in that area but I decided to be even more of a specialist. I don’t care about fillings, I’m not into cosmetics, I just really enjoy pulling teeth out.”

Here was a woman who is clear about what she’s good at and what she enjoyed.

While Hannah and her assistant (whose name escapes me but I could definitely identify her by her striking lower arm tattoo) rooted around my mouth I thought about how in some ways I was the complete opposite.

In an increasingly uncertain and fast moving world I believe that diversification makes you versatile, agile and ready for change. Click To Tweet

I’ve realised I like to get to know a topic in depth, understand it to a reasonable degree of expertise, and explore it. Once I’ve mastered it enough or exhausted my interest or curiosity I like to try something else. I know that I’d be bored devoting my career (and by implication my life) to an ever narrowing specialisation in one thing.

I do admire specialists and Hannah did a wonderful job at quickly and painlessly extracting my tooth, I just know that route isn’t for me.

Combinations are rare and valuable

I’ve been thinking about the concept of the double threat as articulated by the writer and comic creator Scott Adams. His general concept is that you don’t need to be the absolute best at one thing but instead better than average at a few things, which allows you to create your own category.

“Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more [things] until no one else has your mix… At least one of the skills in your mixture should include communication, either written or verbal. If you have an aptitude for a third skill, develop that too.” – Scott Adams

My personal philosophy is probably one of diversification. I didn’t always think this was a good thing. I used to worry that my varied interests made me hard for potential clients and employers to understand. Now I’ve embraced it. In an increasingly uncertain and fast moving world I believe that diversification makes you versatile, agile and ready for change. It means you can solve problems in creative ways.  It means that you are not at the whim of a particular employer or industry.

Specialisation is great.

Until it isn’t. Just ask the print workers who used to work on Fleet Street.

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Specialising vs diversifying