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Generalists vs. Specialists

By Jason Kern, Cortland

Which of the following characterizations would sound more appealing to an investor: ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’ or ‘an inch wide and a mile deep?’ The answer is not always obvious. Specialization has clear advantages and benefits. Some people put all their eggs into one basket, striving to master a niche endeavor, dedicating all resources and energies to one narrow pursuit without distraction. Others choose to spread their efforts across numerous undertakings and pastimes, content to be good, but not great, in many areas.

Is it better to develop unmatched skills in a more obscure specialty (for example, an ace reliever in baseball, a celebrated pastry chef at fine dining restaurants, a beloved but typecast character actor), or is it preferable to be a five-tool player, a chef de cuisine or a leading man/woman, even if you never achieve the heights of your profession, such as the league MVP, a Michelin star or an Oscar? The specialist runs the risk of being pigeonholed, whereas the generalist may end up being a highly competent jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.

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