There were a lot of excellent comments and discussion on "What Separates a Generalist and a Dabbler?"
I'd recommend you check them all out - lots of good insights - and I thought this one by Phaedrus ought to have its own top level post -
Mmmm excellent post! A very good question, and an intriguing style too.
I think Soham hit on an excellent point, which you touched on as well. A generalist may not have a theme for all of his generalities, but he usually does have a purpose for them. The end result of this purpose manifests in shipping, yes. But it also manifests in a consistency of various actions over time.
I’m going to pick two examples from my own life that straddle the line…
I dabble in music. I studied piano for several years as a child, and several times since then I’ve spent several months on end playing consistently, even teaching myself basic guitar. But I’ve also spent YEARS playing no music at all, nor do I have any real goals to progress further.
But I would say I’m a generalist in web technology. I’m not too skilled in any part of the stack, but I can speak intelligently top to bottom, and have been active on some part of this goal or another constantly for many years. It’s not something I do with all or even most of my time. But it’s a consistent theme, with goals that support my life.
I think I’ve talked myself into saying the same thing you did. It’s all about results. A dabbler starts things, maybe shows some promise, maybe gets frustrated, and moves on, and the result is wasted time. A generalist has MUCH to learn, and probably abhors wasted time, and also needs to learn how to ship imperfect products. But over time, I think the wide array of skillsets will actually lead to higher quality than a specialist. It just takes longer, but ultimately the ceiling is much higher.
Good stuff. Thanks for the high quality post!
That's an interesting thought. I always reckoned that a specialist would outperform a generalist. In some fields, like complex surgery, that's almost certainly true. But yes, maybe a generalist outperforms a specialist at fields that benefit from a variety of perspectives and don't have consistent pathways to success.
Phaedrus writes at http://letterstoafriend.cc/ - it's high quality stuff and recommended.
Kind of a speculative entry today, I don't have a complete answer. I've been trying to crack this nut for a while -
What's the difference between a generalist and a dabbler?
Rather, what separates a generalist from a dabbler?
They're very similar. Both dive into a wide variety of things and affairs. Both pick up new skills regularly, sometimes at the expense of the highest level of mastery in a specialized field.
But we all know people who dabble in this, do a little of that, and never make any contributions. And then, on the other hand, you've got people like Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo da Vinci, who did excellent work in a variety of fields.
We’ve all had a time in our lives when we knew what the right thing to do was, but for whatever reason were just unable to make ourselves do it. If you can relate to this experience, this post is for you.
A large contributing factor to the success of any endeavor is the willingness to repeatedly fail. It’s impossible to produce remarkable results without failing. If it was possible everyone would be doing it, and thus it wouldn’t be remarkable.
The problem most people have with failing, however, is that when they fail they see themselves as failures. That’s wrong. The only person who is a failure is the one unwilling to fail in the first place.
Theory Versus Practice