Talk: Why You Should Become a Specialized Generalist

Talk: Why You Should Become a Specialized Generalist
How to become successful and happy in the creative field.

Why You Should Become a Specialized Generalist

In August I got invited to an amazing opportunity to speak in front of a Media Program in Sweden, to talk about my experience and inspire them to take the creative path after high school.

You can find the full video here:

The Flipside of the 10,000 Rule

You might have heard about the 10,000 hours rule: when you want to specialize yourself early to get the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in as soon as possible to become successful. Famous examples are Mozart and Tiger Woods who started at a very young age. But what you don’t hear as often is the flip side of becoming ultra-specialized: the more niched you are, the less opportunities you can get. You pretty much put yourself in a corner and have to be in the top % to really succeed. Think Annie Leibovitz or Lebron James. Would you ask James to compete in skiing, or Leibovitz to do a clothing line?

Look, I’m not saying that creatives shouldn’t niche themselves—they should; that is how you become famous at what you’re doing. Instead, I want creatives to think about the way that they’re niching themselves. You don’t have to have only one skill to become specialized in your field.

The thing is, if you have a wide variety of skills and become more like a a generalist in some sense, you not only will have more job opportunities (which is important in the beginning of your career to not only get experience, but also explore your interests), but if you then take it a step further and become a so called specialized generalist, you can create your own environment and become the top % in what you’re doing — becoming the Lebron James in your made-up field.

Tim Ferris put this beautifully in a video.

So how does this look like in practicality as a creative?

Enter the T-shaped Designer

A T-shaped designer has one skill they are really good at; and multiple other skills to support it. Another name for this type of designer is a creative unicorn (because they are hard to find 😊). Let’s say for example that your biggest interest is UI design. Now you might have some great UX skills to support your main skill, but if you also know coding, prototyping, motion and branding, now your value has suddenly become much higher. If you on top of that has a random skill that is not related whatsoever to your main area, that's when you can start to combine and niche yourself.

A T-shaped designer has one skill they are really good at; and multiple other skills to support it.

Let’s say that you are a product designer with good supporting skills like coding and photography, but you also love gardening. Could your niche be to do the whole package like websites, apps, and photography/videography for landscape & exterior designers, farmers and gardeners? Or maybe work with TV like with Discovery Channel with what you’re passionate about?

I cover this and much more in the video.