The value of not being a specialist
Once again, I'm a day late and a dollar short. Therefore, I'm posting an article previously written and offered for sale on nDash.com.
With the plethora of niche industries that festoon today’s marketplace, businesses clamor for specialists. They want people with deep, intimate knowledge of the products or services they sell. That makes sense. Someone with specialized knowledge can hit the ground running rather than take up valuable time to get up to speed on the ins and outs of a particular business.
Unfortunately, specialists don’t always possess the critical communication skills to convey their fascination and love for the subject, nor to inspire the interest of others. That requires a specialist of a different kind, someone who can learn about the subject and who specializes in effective communication.
Nowhere is that more obvious or evident than in written content.
Many professional and trade associations use newsletters to share information among members within an industry. That information does not necessarily focus upon the unique facets of that product or service, but frequently includes other topics pertinent to business. For instance, newsletters for the North American Power Sweeping Association include articles focusing on business management practices. A newsletter produced by an equine breed association will also include information on proper vaccination and deworming, barn maintenance, and general equine health concerns as well as breed-specific content.
Using another example, an expert in internet law wrote a book about GDPR in Europe. Although the editor had no background in such legal matters, the editor had the specialized expertise necessary to focus on improving the language for proper and effective conveyance of the message. In still another example, an editor’s general knowledge serves well to catch discrepancies and errors in fiction: e.g., the Rubik’s Cube did not hit U.S. shores until 1980, so a character’s play with the toy in the early 1970s could not have occurred.
Generalists have the advantage of knowing a little bit about a lot of stuff. That enables them to detect errors and discrepancies that specialists may not catch. Generalization lends itself to adaptability: the generalist can adjust to the circumstances or project demands as needed.
When it comes to content creation, the specialist is the subject matter expert and the generalist is the translator who communicates the complexities of a topic so that laymen understand that topic—at least at a basic level.
The benefit of using a generalist is that such a person does many things well, even if he or she does not have the in-depth knowledge to truly excel at a particular subject. The generalist knows to use the resources available, including tapping subject matter experts for specialized insight.
The concept is not new. In the 1950s, Lawrence D. Miles recognized the value of bringing in outside perspectives for the value insight they contributed and which subject matter experts missed entirely. One such example concerned a group of engineers who attempted to develop a valve that could be opened and closed quickly under a great deal of pressure. They came up blank, until someone mentioned that firefighters used such valves on their hoses already. The engineers had no need to reinvent the wheel; they could use an existing product—but they would not have realized that if someone from outside their field of expertise had not mentioned it to them. Miles, known in certain circles as the “father of value engineering,” launched a philosophy that split into various quality management and cost reduction techniques, not the least of which was labeled “Voice of the Customer.”
Don’t discount the value of the generalist. Everyone has his or her own special expertise; that it’s not yours makes affords your business insight it otherwise would not achieve.
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