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Ramblings of a wanderer

Specialists, Generalists & now Versatilists!

03 Oct 2005

The classic debate regarding the choice between Specialists and Generalists just got bigger. In a recent Research paper titled The IT Professional Outlook: Where will we go from here?, Gartner added a new runner to the race- The Versatilist. According to Gartner, "Versatilists, in contrast, apply a depth of skill to a rich scope of situations and experiences, building new alliances, perspectives, competencies and roles." Now that's a mouthful! :)

To set a little background; Specialists build on intensified learning/training to excel in their chosen concentration within their domain, while Generalists prefer the extensive learning/experience approach where they stimulate limited exposure to various aspects or concentrations within their domain. But seriously, are these classifications water tight? No one could ever get anywhere by fine tuning themselves to just one paradigm; and I don't want to discuss what kind of impact you could make being the proverbial Jack of all Trades. The former is like finding the Answer to Life in the middle of a desert and the latter, like telling the world that you know how to light a match! The idea of Specialization was introduced at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a time when Capitalism was an accepted (and on occasion necessary) social evil. Generalization was a knee jerk reaction to over-specialization.

Now, we need to build Versatilists, Knights in Shining Armor, wielding all weapons with equal dexterity and skill! How real is the idea that a given individual could attain deep skill sets in multiple domains? According to Gartner, a Versatilist picks up greater roles and assignments as one increases the depth of current skills. But, wouldn't accepting a role outside your domain of expertise suddenly put you shallow? How much anticipation could you employ to mitigate this risk?

In my opinion, multi-faceted individuals view themselves in multiple dimensions. Each dimension represents an area of interest, a generalization; whereas the intersections of these dimensions would define concentrations, specializations. Each specialization bears at least two domain aspects; automatically multiplying the scope of roles or assignments where these intensive skills can be applied. It turns out to be very difficult to graph this idea, but it can be conceived as a series of overlapping pyramids. Each pyramid represents the skill base in a given domain, peaking at the specialization in that domain. Taller pyramids would represent an individuals majors. The overlap of pyramids would represent multiple roles applicable. So, an overlap higher in the pyramids would exhibit a deep skill (specialization) that may be applied to the benefit of roles/domains represented by both pyramids.