The difference in thinking and doing between the generalist and specialist.

Recently we had a conversation with an entrepreneur who is struggling with the question: “Should I work in a specialist or generalistic way“. Nevertheless, he advised us to specialize in a specific target group. His line of thought was: “If you specialize, you can better help people within your specialty.

You see this phenomenon in business a lot. There are many professionals who specialize in one specific field. Take for example: entrepreneurs / executives, lawyers, economists, HR-employees, marketers, IT specialists and other specialists.

Let’s take a trip to the medical world:
In case of illness, you first go to the doctor and not initially to the specialist.
For example: you have a huge headache for a long time. Then, because of the pain in your head, you do not immediately go to the neurosurgeon to undergo a major brain surgery.
You first go to the doctor, the generalist. He/she will check what your complaints are and tries to find the cause (s) as best as possible and then draw up a treatment plan with you. In this he/she refers, if necessary, to the relevant specialties.

Why do you go directly to the neurosurgeon for open brain surgery in business?

You can cut where it hurts, also known as symptom relief. Or find out the underlying cause (s) of a problem. We call this problem clarification and problem solving.

In our previous article “How deeply do you set the bar?” (see here), we describe self-development based on the build-up of the personal character that consists of different layers. The same model can also be applied to a company with its problems, challenges and questions. These relate to the personal characteristics of the people who work in the company. So, human related.
As described in the article, a problem is rarely on one layer, but on several layers.

A specialist gives advice from his field and / or on one specific layer. Combating symptoms may be effective for the short term, but it does not eliminate the underlying problem. As a result, symptoms recur in the same or adapted form in the long term.

to try to empty the ocean with a thimble

As an example: the entrepreneur Bas has a work conflict with an employee. The employee Tim no longer meets the requirements that the company needs. He is late every day, does not meet his targets, works inaccurately and is not open to communicate regarding his behaviour. This situation escalates to such an extent that Bas is forced to impose sanctions on Tim. Bas contacts a lawyer for advice and guidance in the situation with Tim. The lawyer advises Bas to separate both parties by offering dismissal with a favourable departure scheme for Tim. The lawyer has given his advice and leaves.

The question is, how did it get this far and how can a similar situation be prevented next time?

A generalist can offer a solution. He / she should have the basic knowledge and skills of most specialisms. Combined with a psychological background, the generalist can easily identify the layers and related specialties that causes problems that caused these symptoms.
Then a solid plan can be drawn up to expose the underlying problem and to solve and to prevent symptoms.
Specialists, on the other hand, are needed for specialist advice within their own field.
The generalist creates and maintains the total overview.

More see through, more impact

Thanks to James Teoh for the main photo.
Thanks to Renée van den Kerkhof for the illustration.
For your information, the example of the entrepreneur Bas is fiction.