The Hazards of Over-Specialization in Business

Hey! Twitter tweeps! Did y’all catch the article on the hazards of over-specialization at the university level we posted up this morning? I found it an interesting read. Are we really leaning toward over-specialization, and losing our diversity and our adaptability in the process? Or are these doom-sayers just Gloomy Guses looking to rain on the parade of today’s business?

The Pros of Specialization

The battle cry in the fast-paced world of business is to diversify. Offer something that sets you apart from your competition and hammer it home. Whether that be a different product line, a different way of doing business or just a different way of dealing with your customers, you want to take that and make it your thing.

There are some definite pros to going out there and doing “your thing”. For starters, you can do something you enjoy and that you’re very, very good at. You already have a comfortable knowledge base under your belt, and you can continue to build on that rather than scrambling to stretch your wings into parts unknown.

You can also do what you enjoy, and when you love what you’re doing it’s not really work. Right?

The Downside and Eventual Downfall of Specialization

The last line in the previous section is actually a paraphrase of a quote by Confucious himself. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how much you love something. When you do it day after day, when you depend on it for your livelihood, it doesn’t matter how much you love it. At some point, it’s going to become work.

The downside of specialization is that when you over-specialize, you wind up pigeonholing yourself. You become known as “The guy who does (X)”. When people need X, they’re going to come to you. But what happens when people need X+Y? Are they still going to come to you? Probably not. Most people aren’t going to come up and ask you if you  can do (Y) when the guy down the street is shouting that he’ll do both-and cut them a good price on it while he’s at it.

The need to generalize is growing as business is changing and budgets are being sucked in. Over-specializing, no matter how much you love that particular specialization, can leave you on the outside looking in when your customers need more than you’re willing to give. Consider carefully before whittling down the options you’re willing to put on the table.

Are you a specialist or a generalist? How did you choose?