I took this photo this morning in an open-air market.  There were many vendors selling vast arrays of fruit.  One man was selling just cherries from a wooden box and he had limited quantities.  He had a line of ten people waiting to purchase from him.  The vendors next to the man’s stand stocked plenty of cherries along with apples, bananas, and strawberries.  The old man specialized and apparently he was well known for his cherries.  

Consider giving yourself permission to specialize.  It may make you standout to those who are seeking just what you have to deliver.  Do not be surprised when the line forms.

Specialist vs. Generalist

Specialists are experts in a very specific area.  Specialist can wax an Olympian’s skis to run .01 faster, enough to win a gold medal.  Doctors specialize, you have a pediatric anesthesiologist in surgery as opposed to just a general anesthesiologist.  A travel agent can customize a vacation on cruise line in the Caribbean that best fits a client who uses a wheelchair. 

Generalist have a level of comprehension that covers a wide range of information.  According to Wikipedia, a generalist species may survive in a wide variety of environmental conditions.  Generalist are small town doctors who are miles from the big city hospital and must handle whatever walks into their clinic.

The world appears to be headed towards developing more specialists in the years to come. Have you seen nonprofit fundraisers specializing in annual fund, capital campaigns, planned giving, alumni relations, major gifts, leadership donors?  Look in the Chronicle of Philanthropy classified section and you can see the diverse requirements and specializations within the field of Development and Advancement.

Nonprofit boards are being made-up of more specialists.  The matrix many boards use for selecting new board members includes professional skills such as accountant, attorney, builder/architect, business owner, technology, human resources.  These are tremendous skill and clearly add value to the expertise of the board.  Rarely do you see the matrix list the attribute of ‘generalist’.  Who has the expertise to manage all the specialist information and mold it into a format from which a board can make the best decision?  Who has the vision that considers as many of the opinions and views before reaching a conclusion?

In the coming years, I believe generalist, an individual with the ability to think strategically and globally will become a specialist.  The available pool of generalist is being reduced every year as more individuals train to develop technical skills.

How does your enterprise balance the specialists and generalists?  Do you have the specialists necessary to tackle the details?  Do you have a generalist to bring the conversation back to 30,000 feet if necessary?