In the modern world, where a very common job might require someone to be a social-media expert, public speaker, writer and data analyst, the polymath wins and the deep subject-matter expert is relegated to a back corner to be used as a resource for others. As an investor, if I were going to pick the perfect team, it would be a group of rock-star polymaths with a single subject matter expert as a resource.
This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on TechCrunch. Just spectacular.
I agree strongly with the article in general, but I would adjust it slightly in one area: I think even Renaissance types need to excel at one or more topics. Hence the “Master of Some” instead of “Master of None”.
Top tier generalists will have dozens of skills that they are in the 5% in, but ideally they’ll have 2-5 that are 1% in. I, for example, enjoy being good at lots of aspects of InfoSec, but I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t extra good at Application Security (with even more specialization in Web Security).
So I agree with him, generally, on generalists. But even generalists need to have their areas of specialization in my opinion.
The one thing we agree on, though, is that you definitely don’t want to be bad at 9 out of 10 of the important things for dominating in technology, for example, and then hyper-specialize in only one area.
If you’re successful, and you think that you’ve done this, you’re probably wrong. You think you’ve specialized in only one, narrow tech skill, but you actually are in the top 5% in writing, speaking, and generally marketing yourself. And those are the real magnifiers in the game of success.
This reminds me of a piece I wrote a long time ago about core technical skills, called 3-Phased Information Processing: The IT Meta-skill.
It’s all about how you basically need to be good at a few things going into the future of tech, and they’re pretty broad and different skills. This is much of the point of this TechCrunch piece above, and that’s why I like it.
To get ahead in tech, here’s my recipe:
- Master the art of clear, concise communication
- Programming fundamentals
- Networking fundamentals
- System administration fundamentals
- Know how to use APIs
- Understand how to manipulate data
- Know how to tell a story
- Learn the basics of data visualization
- Your projects are your CV
- Help people unconditionally, share, and collaborate
This list right here spans dozens of different skills, and you need to be good at all of them. But you only have to pick 2-3 to be really good at.
Be a generalist with a couple of specializations who sees patterns in various disciplines and can combine them into a single narrative.
That’s what wins.