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How do you succeed as a generalist in a world which fetishizes specialists?

Feb 19, 2013
How do you succeed as a generalist in a world which fetishizes specialists?

Not to sound like a broken record, but there’s another section in Steal Like An Artist about this called “Don’t Throw Any Of Yourself Away.” (A tip I learned from a friend of mine.)

I think generalists are becoming more and more valuable these days. Think of journalists: in the old days, you had to be able to find the story and write it. Now, as David Carr points out, you have to be comfortable doing a variety of things: shooting video, coding, running social media, etc. It’s the same for copywriters: you need to be well-versed in a variety of media.

I think the way you succeed (succeed, as in, uh, make money, I guess?) is to not market yourself as a “generalist” but as a [noun] who can [verb], [verb], [verb]. For example, my resume used to read: “I’m a writer who draws and codes.”

I really don’t know much about baseball, but I had a friend who explained to me the concept of a “five-tool player.” That’s a baseball player who can 1) hit for average 2) hit for power 3) run fast and get bases 4) throw and 5) field. Now, if you’re really fucking good at slugging home runs and you’re an awesome fielder, you can be forgiven for being slow and somewhat erratic. (I’m too stupid about baseball to give you an example.)

Cartoonists are an interesting example: a lot of cartoonists are average artists and average writers, but when it comes to telling stories with pictures and words together, they’re brilliant.

You should also read up on the “t-shaped person”:

T-shaped is just a funny name used to describe a person who has very deep skills in one area (the deep vertical stroke of the T) as well as the ability to collaborate across disciplines they’re not an expert in (that would be the horizontal stoke). Today’s most successful creatives are a sort of hybrid, capable of expert contributions in their chosen fields of art direction or copywriting, but fluent enough in other digital disciplines to collaborate effectively, occasionally even executing things on their own.

I hate the term “creative” as a noun, but whatever.

72 notes

  1. ace-of-blue-spades said: Dang, I wish I could reblog this. This is good.
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