Comment: "over time, I think the wide array of skillsets [of a generalist] will actually lead to higher quality than a specialist"
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.