I'm playing both sides of this fence these days with Tech Ronin being relatively general and my other three blogs being more narrowly focused: FileMaker Fever (FileMaker is my software specialty), Studio Manager Bulletin (about my software product) and Janet's Genealogy Blog (focused on genealogy). But, as a generalist at heart, I want to put in a good word on the generalist side of this debate.
Richard MacManus at Read/Write Web has confessed to being a generalist and says he's going to change his blog to be more focused so that he can advance his career more effectively.
I can see that... focus is good. But this piece, for example, on being a generalist is one of his best. He likes the big picture stuff and is willing to exert the effort to do some very interesting thinking about it.
I see the immediate advantage of focus. But, what if you could do the work you really want to do? What if you can be that person doing the really fun stuff and doing it with brilliance? I would like to see his short-term-oriented niche-thinking occur inside of a big picture for his next 10 years in his career.
A ton of people don't try for the really cool stuff because they figure - what are the odds? They go for the sure thing, thinking they need to grow up and be practical. But, some people are *crazy* and do the really cool stuff - become film-makers, for example. They persevere and their great passion and commitment prevails. They make a difference on the planet that the career professionals rarely do.
So, yeah, you can specialize now if you want, but maybe leave yourself some room to be *out there* every now and then. Or put 50% into the practical and 50% into the dream. I was going to say 75% into the practical and 25% into the dream, but I don't think you get the *big* dreams from the sidelines.
But that doesn't mean you can't start there. Marsha Sinetar, who wrote Do what you love, the Money Will Follow, wrote subsequent books that explained that it might not be a *lot* of money that follows but you get something better than money when you do what you love.
It's harder to go for what we really want. Much easier to compromise. That way we don't have to face the risk of the heartbreak of not making it. Coming up short. The inner critic always supports you in backing down from your dreams. Richard is clearly on the fence on this thing. He's ambitious and wants to really make a difference and make his mark in the world. I, for one, am cheering for him and the rest of us.
It seems that we pit money and career advantage against doing what we love. It's all the passion's fault (or in this case the generalist's fault). I say there's lots of room for improvement that we resist. Typically, we humans don't like to look silly or foolish. We'll do just about anything to avoid it. If you are willing to risk looking like a fool, you might get somewhere.
Dina Mehta said recently that she's willing to be a polymath. She excerpts several other posts, summarizes and comments. The ideas that I find convincing are:
In this world of specialists, generalists have a vital role to play.
It's in the overlaps between the specialties where the answers are, the breakthroughs.
The fix to career doldrums might not be to specialize but to renegotiate the contract of your job with your boss or angle in the direction of what you really want even if it slows progress in the short run. Richard's big thinking can be an advantage if he takes it seriously and devotes himself to finding ways to serve the company *and* be fired up and doing things that move towards his true calling(s).
I know all this talk doesn't pay the rent, etc., etc.. To me a blog is a GREAT place to move your *personal brand* in the direction of your values/interests/longings and passions. You get to experiment, sound off and be bold when you wanna be. If you can't do it with your blog, where can you do it?