Fast games

Generalists tend to outperform specialists when the going gets tough

The author, Altron Karabina MD Collin Govender

let’s be honest for a while: We’ve been taught to believe that to be exceptional at something, you have to become a specialist and spend 10,000 hours perfecting that singular skill. There’s nothing wrong with this degree of specialization and mastery, but in today’s workplace we need people who can think on the spot, outside the box, laterally, drawing on a wealth of experience, demonstrating creativity and making important decisions.

David Epstein’s book, Vary, reviews top athletes, musicians, inventors, scientists and more. He found that in most fields, especially those that are unpredictable and constantly changing (which, to be fair, sounds like a post-pandemic workplace!), it’s the generalists who thrive, not the specialists. . It’s provocative because it goes against what most of us have instinctively believed.

Epstein writes that Tiger Woods started playing golf as a young boy with a singular purpose. His dedication as a monk has seen him rise through the ranks to symbolize the famous red shirt on the back nine that obliterates everyone on the pitch.

Roger Federer followed a different career path. He practiced many sports and did not choose tennis until much later. His mother, who was a tennis coach, did not want to coach him because of his unconventional approach precisely because of his time spent elsewhere. He too has reached the peak of his sport, regularly beating specialists.

Many know me as the General Manager of Altron Karabina, but few know that my first job was driving a forklift in a warehouse, followed by different professional adventures in IT and HR on an exciting road that took me ultimately led to writing this article. I failed, and those failures added texture and learning. I won, and those victories taught me humility and recipes for success. Much of my tenacity, resilience and positivity comes from the diversity of my experience.

Scope allows the hard-working generalist to see potential outcomes and make connections that the specialist counterpart may not see. One often reads about the most in-demand skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and almost always, among the best skills outside of the core competency are creativity, agility and decision-making: traits acquired in the GP’s remote experience.

Find autonomy in the workplace

Leaders would do well to identify their top talent and then create experiences and exposure for them to nurture their careers. Don’t ask them if they would like to challenge themselves. Often people set limits out of fear of failure. Create the environment and send them.

Intentionally move the needle so they can experiment more and in different areas. It is only through this endless pursuit of new experiences and exposure that we will unearth the next best talent and leaders in organizations and the country as a whole.

Altron Karabina is in an exciting phase of growth, having reached a milestone, and is seeing the fruits of very deliberate decisions made over a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a journey. In the pursuit of the innovation that matters, no one can afford to stagnate believing it has happened. The thing is, there was a deliberate decision to grow the lineup.

Previously, the business was structured into separate specialist areas with no overlap and separate units with no collaboration. So, in pursuit of range, we created skill areas across the company, and then deliberately connected the dots between units. In other words, we actively and intentionally created the opportunity – and the need – for collaboration at all levels. What started mechanically became organic, and the staff grew enormously in competence, confidence, creativity and decision-making.

Look for temporary discomfort to expand your set of experiences. As Epstein’s book makes so clear, it’s a smart self-growth tactic.

Altron Karabina is in the business of digital transformation, so the previous siled structure was not suitable for this program. We need to engage a customer as a holistic customer and not just a data or ERP project. This journey is only a little over a year old, but the change in the business is a testament to the fact that pushing people out of comfort zones to gain broad experience drives business performance.

I would like to challenge everyone reading this to challenge themselves. Why don’t we deliberately seek experiences to increase the diversity of our skills? Look for temporary discomfort to expand your set of experiences. As Epstein’s book makes so clear, this is a smart self-growth tactic.

  • The author, Collin Govender, is MD at Altron Karabina
  • This promoted content has been paid for by the relevant party


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