Should you be a generalist?

Samar Syed
3 min readApr 18, 2020

One of those fundamental debates on ways of life, my thoughts and learnings.

“Specialists envy generalists while generalists envy other generalists”

As much as I dislike it, and as much as we deny it, the human brain is judgemental, we have developed these mental models that have helped us from our stone age era, Halo effect is one such Mental Model or cognitive bias as you may call it.

I won’t go into the details of it in this article but, Halo Effects suggests that we base our perception of someone based on single events.
If you are a good logo designer then people will attribute that, you would be equally good at other areas of design or presenting design or facilitation,
even though, there is no correlation between the skills.

If you are early in your career and you keep jumping on to the next shiny thing without becoming great at one thing then, you, my friend are a jack of all trades, master of none.

If you are an entrepreneur then you have no choice you’ll have to be generalist by default (at least initially).

If you have entrepreneurial spirits then you may naturally gravitate towards a wide range of things, the key here is to explore things internally in silence and show the world only the things that you excel at (again halo effect).

Also, another thing with being a generalist is that you’ll never be satisfied there are always new skills/tools/frameworks to learn and excel at, which may be a good thing or a bad thing based on your context.

In my particular case, I am a UX Researcher, Sprint Facilitator and I want to be great at those things, but internally, flat or isometric illustrations? Ya, that’d be cool to know, micro-interactions? yes please, Video editing skills to document things better? ya, why not. Closing Sales? oh boy.

The world as we know it, at least the Industrial Revolution onwards, has been incentivized for being master of one thing rather than being a jack of all trades, and while there is nothing wrong about it and it definitely plays an important role as a cog in the bigger schema of things, but it does tend to silo our thinking.

If you ask about what people remember Leonardo Da Vinci for, then the Mona Lisa will pop into their heads and they will say he was a great painter or an artist, but not many people would know that Da Vinci’s areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of paleontology, ichnology, and architecture.

Being a generalist gives you a fair amount of knowledge to poke your noses everywhere and by doing that you come across various new endeavors.

It also gives you the vocabulary to talk with people of multiple backgrounds,
they will assume that you know what you are talking about.

Becoming really good at something to the point of mastery takes years if not decades though.

Ya totally get why the activation on the user retention is low. ( Me talking to Marketing department after reading ‘Hacking Growth’ by Sean Ellis)

In all, I would like to conclude with the conclusion that not everything needs to be concluded and bottled into black and white, you do you.