Being a Generalist is the Foundation of Running Your Own Business

May 14th, 2015   |    By: Sohin Shah

Throughout our schooling and mentoring, we entrepreneurs are constantly urged to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But is this advice really viable? Does it truly apply to us? In my opinion, the answer to both questions is “yes.”

The best entrepreneurs are steadfast generalists — especially in today’s world, where knowing a little about a lot is increasingly important. They are persistently curious and have a deep, abiding interest in learning. They see opportunities where others see challenges, and they’re often natural leaders with strong problem-solving skills.

The Specialist’s Dilemma

A society of specialists is rich in data and poor in meaning. How valuable is all that knowledge without any context? As strategic thinkers, generalists provide the meaning behind data. They’re big picture-oriented and not afraid to take risks. They also enjoy their independence and prefer working in open (and sometimes chaotic) environments.

Specialists, on the other hand, typically thrive only in perfect conditions. They serve a very specific purpose within their particular areas of practice and are extremely adept at navigating it. However, they struggle to adapt when conditions change, which can be a problem in the volatile world of entrepreneurship.

It’s clear that taking a generalist’s approach brings a number of solid advantages to entrepreneurs and founders. Here are a few additional benefits:

  • Great management skills: Flexibility breeds top-notch management and decision-making abilities. When I launched my company, I didn’t have the necessary expertise or resources to hire an in-house programming team, so I outsourced this task to a group in India. Navigating the geographic and cultural implications of this decision required incredible flexibility and an open mind.

An individual who’s only comfortable working within the strict parameters of his expertise would be overwhelmed by this task.

  • Killer collaboration: Generalists enjoy wearing many hats. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, launching a successful company will be a very difficult task. You need to not only be comfortable recruiting people, but you also need to feel confident in your ability to develop and manage them.
  • Creative thinking: Because generalists don’t have specialized skill sets, they’re much more open to exploring creative solutions. They’re not loyal to one certain practice, technique, or philosophy. Having an open mind allows for limitless growth.
  • A better bottom line: Specialists are expensive. They charge top dollar for their services. Because most startups have limited resources to begin with, generalists are a much more fiscally responsible and efficient option — especially if your company is involved in a broad array of projects.

Generalists love the hustle of entrepreneurship. But a generalist’s mindset isn’t limited to company leadership. You should strive to hire a staff rich in this personality type, sprinkling in some specialists to keep things balanced.

Recruit Specialists to Further Your Success

It takes a devout generalist to recruit good specialists. Effective hiring requires a strong knowledge of every employee’s duties. However, it’s impossible to lead and manage someone when you don’t understand his role and daily tasks.

Here are four specific traits you should look for in your new hires:

  1. Passion: It’s paramount that your employees adopt your company’s vision and feel passionate about what you do. If you spend top dollar on someone, you better make sure that both of you are on the same page. No amount of money can buy passion.
  1. Knowledge: You need to make sure that a specialist is actually a specialist. Research his employment history, check his references, and search for relevant work samples. Specialists are your go-to people. Make sure they truly know what they’re doing.
  1. Execution: Knowledge and passion alone won’t cut it. If a candidate can’t usefully apply his skill set to your business model, there’s no benefit whatsoever in hiring him. Make sure your candidate’s value extends far beyond his technical skills and positive personality.
  1. Leadership: It’s important to breed leadership at your company. Look for people who will go above and beyond their duties. Those who have great leadership skills will always be thinking about the big picture.

They won’t be satisfied simply working on what’s been assigned. They’ll help you hire junior talent, document workflows, and instill best practices. As your team grows, you personally will not have enough time or resources to micromanage hires, so these qualities become increasingly valuable.

Being a generalist is the foundation of running your own thriving business. By embracing that role, honing those skills, and filling your workforce with top-notch specialists and generalists, your startup will see success in its outputs, ideas, income, and culture.


About the Author

In 2012, Sohin Shah successfully crowdfunded Valuation App with 57 backers and went on to start iFunding, now one of the leading real estate crowdfunding platforms in the world.


About the Author

Sohin Shah

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