The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing.
Every now and again there is an article in the HBR blog network that really hits home with me. The latest is a post extoling the virtues of the Generalist.
In an age of specialists, I still subscribe to the idea of the Renaissance Women, or polymath. I am a big picture person, and I think that one's expertise should span across a variety of subject areas. I have shaped my career to reflect this ethos. At Procter & Gamble, where I spent the bulk of my career, the typical path is a siloed one. If you start out in CBD (Sales), you stay in CBD. If you start out in CMK (Market Research), you stay in CMK. While it's possible (and in some cases encouraged) to take a broadening assignment in a different discipline, from what I've seen few choose to do it. I pushed the limits of the company, moving from CBD to CMK to External Relations. Had I stayed with the company my next move would have been into Marketing. It's not a case of career ADHD; in order for me to excel at a job I need to understand all of the moving parts. Working in Sales, I saw what happened after a product made it into stores. In Market Research I took products from concept to launch, making sure the voice of the consumer was listened to along the way. In External Relations I oversaw Community Management, and connected consumers to P&G products and brands in meaningful ways.
Those experiences stacked on top of each other allow me to better succeed in business (which is interdisciplinary by nature) in an interconnected and global economy. When faced with a business problem I am able to truly think about it from a 360 degree perspective, understanding all of the aspects of the inputs and how they fit together/influence each other. For all of its siloes, I want to give credit to P&G: It is the most cross-functional work environment I have ever been exposed to. I went on plant tours, worked with R&D to refine scents, partnered with Legal and Privacy on social media guidelines, and never felt like I was limited in scope. It's an amazing place to work and I if I ever found myself living in a P&G city (Boston, Cincinnati, Geneva), I would work there again in a heartbeat -- provided I continued to find the support needed for my unconventional career path.
Outside of my career choices I operate the same way: I quite simply want to know and do EVERYTHING.
When I master the world's most prefect chocolate chip cookie, I take up Italian. When I can ask for a hotel room across from the Venice Canal in perfect Italian accompanied by the appropriate hand flourishes, I begin teaching myself how to knit sweater vests with Richard Branson's face on them. When people start to think I'm creepy and obsessed with business icons, I take up reading YA dystopian novels until I burst at the seams with protagonists'* Hero Journeys.
Enter today. Bored with dystopic lit, I enrolled in a Carpentry for Women class at Yestermorrow. Yestermorrow is a design/build school, and it's a downright Vermont institute. I'm picking up carpentry because I've always dreamed of buying some land and designing/building a house. This course will get me one step closer. It will also make me a more desirable human in a post-zombie-apocalypse society (PZAS). My friend Mateo says that right now he wouldn't want me on his PZAS team, and I plan on changing his mind. I start in 5 days. As long as the zombies hold off for a few more weeks I'm all set.
*Did you know that a deuteragonist is the second most important character in a play/book/life, after the protagonist and before the tritagonist? Love that term.