A specialist and a generalist talk
A few years ago I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine that works at a big consulting firm.
“I can barely open my LinkedIn anymore, because I constantly get recruiters stalking me for jobs” she said.
“It’s all related to finance, but in all kinds of companies, from tech to banking to consultancy, you name it”.
I ask: “do you ever reply to any of them?”.
She says: “no, not really, I am happy where I am now, so why would I?”
At the time she was telling me this, I was going through a particularly difficult time. Corona had hit the media and communications industry hard and the future was very uncertain for most entrepreneurs.
In those moments you think as an entrepreneur: “damn, it must be a nice feeling to have people lining up for your specialized skill..”
Generalists don’t get job offers
Many lockdowns later, I announced to my network that I would take a step back from Funk-e with the classical LinkedIn post thanking everyone and opening up for new opportunities.
Even though I received plenty of nice messages from friends, family and clients, nobody really approached me with any kind of job.
Since my goal was to start a new company, I obviously was not looking for a job, but it did make me think:
How come my friends which had a similar education and working experience were getting flooded with messages from recruiters, and I wasn’t?
I did after all:
⁃ Have a proven track record as an entrepreneur
⁃ Manage to make things happen where others couldn’t
⁃ Fulfill several different kinds of jobs within my company purely out of necessity ranging anywhere from HR, Sales, copywriting, sound design, voiceover actor, strategy, management, administration, driver, kitchen staff, office cleaning crew and last but not least direction and transformation of a company.
– Heck, I even learned how to sail by myself
Why would I not be the ideal, self sufficient employee?
The point is: I am a generalist, and most companies (including myself when I was on the hiring side) look for specialists.
Being a generalist in my first company
When we started Funk-e, the animated explanation industry was just getting started. It was a tiny niche which would later on become an important part of the online advertising and learning & development branches of communications.
Me and my co-founder had absolutely no experience in media other than him knowing how to code websites as a hobby and me knowing how to use a microphone for my music and writing a bit for my university newspaper side job.
The fact that we had so little knowledge was very freeing. We didn’t see the big problems that other industry veterans saw. For example advertising veterans would complain about less and less money going to yearly budgets for TV and print media. They would say that the end was near for the creative industry.
However our super simple approach to making animated videos was an absolute hit. And making the videos at scale while being fun to watch was one of the most creative processes I have ever been through.
Being a generalist was a gift, it allowed us to look beyond the limitations that specialists got stuck on and helped us build whatever made sense for us and our customers.
Becoming an industry specialist
After more than a decade spent in an industry that we also helped shape in the Netherlands, I do consider myself more of a specialist in that particular field of communications.
The benefit of choosing a niche is that your company can quickly be seen as a the leading expert in the field, which makes finding customers less challenging.
The downside is that as an entrepreneur, your newly built specialized skills are actually not that valuable.
The reason is that my focus was to hire specialists that would be better than me.
The consultants that advise our clients on internal communication, are much better at thinking of a campaign strategy than I am.
The designers that create beautiful infographics for our clients posters are much more creative than me.
And the copywriters that work for us, write much better stories than I could.
So what do I have to offer?
At first, when I set up my one-man business called Mister Awesome, I gravitated to the practical specialistic skills that I had developed over time within my company: the ability to write a good pitch, doing voiceovers or creating a podcast for example.
These are all fun skills to have and easy products to sell, but from a strategic perspective are an uphill battle if you really want to beat the competition.
All the other people in these fields are not only 10 years ahead, but the best ones are also extremely passionate about their job.
Me on the other hand, I like all these activities, but I don’t really want to build a career on any of these skills.
That’s why slowly I have been transitioning away from selling those skills, and tried putting them to better use elsewhere.
For example, this blog is a creative outlet, and a way to build a personal brand.
Putting my generalist skills to good use
I have developed some generalist skills that I believe are equally valuable to companies, but that might not be as easy to sell on their own:
– Developing a vision in an industry I don’t know well within a couple of weeks
– Finding, hiring and motivating the first 4 people that make up the dream team
– The ability to sell 3 iterations of a products of any kind just to quickly improve it
– Putting all of this into action on a quarterly basis and improve into unknown worlds fast
These skills all fall under the bucket of “new business development” or “innovation” but it’s not really the kind of service people buy quickly off the shelf.
A new exciting project
Since the 15th of July I have started a new project to help a company create a spin-off from a successful prototype they have created.
In my next article I will dive more into detail on what this new activity is, and how I went about diving into it.
In the coming months I will report back how this experience is to really build something new next to Funk-e.
Generalists create unexpected jobs
So like I said at the beginning of this article, as a generalist, you should not expect job offers once you stop working for your startup, because nobody is really looking for them.
Instead you should embrace your generalist skills and keep building, networking and developing visions around industries you don’t quite understand yet but feel excited about.
Chances are, eventually this will not get you a job, but create the job you never knew you wanted.