How many times have you heard phrases like “A Jack of all trades but a master of none” or “Do one thing and do it well”. Since the industrial revolution our society has valued and rewarded specialisation. As creatives we are often pressurised to be a specialist rather than a generalist. However technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning means that the tide is turning in favour of creative generalists.
In my early 30’s I was a music producer. I would hire the best drummer in town to play on an album I was producing even though I was also a drummer. If the drummer I hired didn’t turn up then I could have laid down a drum track and most people wouldn’t know. I could also had enough skills to engineer the record, play some bass on it and promote it to radio stations even though I didn’t. You see my role was to be the producer and then hire and get the best out of other people.
The drummer is a specialist but the producer is also a specialist. My friend the designer Radim Malinic
uses the word multi-specialists rather than generalists to describe producers. The drummer creates the best drum track, the producer creates the best album.
In music we call these specialists ‘session musicians’. In the design industry they might be illustrators and copywriters while in business they could be the social media managers, software engineers or analysts. Their skill set is deep and narrow.
The problem is technologies like artificial intelligence will take over many of the specialist roles. As humans however our creativity and curiosity allows us to be multi-specialists and more importantly be boundary crossers. If you look at many Nobel Prize Winners it wasn’t that they were the most knowledgable or skilled in one specialism, it was that they were able to apply an idea from one specialism with an idea from another and create something extrordinary.
So stay curious, go deep on a number of areas and then use your unique creativity to make something remarkable. Be a multi-specialist.
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