To Be a Generalist or to Be a Specialist? That is the Question.

I was meeting with a prospect this week and he asked me if it was better to be a generalist or a specialist in today’s turbulent environment.

Poland Shale Gas

The person asking specializes in helping US companies in the oil industry figure out how to enter Poland to serve the significant needs developing around shale gas exploration.  (Ironic that the question would come from someone who is famous for something by being so specialized.)

For more on Poland’s Shale gas click on this link- http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-07/poland-targeting-shale-gas-with-exxon-to-end-russian-dominance.html

It was a great question and the answer is worthy of sharing with my blog readers.  Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran an article that featured five lawyers who made $1,000 plus per hour.  (Click on my $1,000 lawyer posting on the right.)  They were all very senior in their firms and specialized in one area.  Last week (June 15th,) the Wall Street Journal ran another article, “Lawyers Settle…for Temp Jobs.”   This article was about very qualified lawyers who were generalists.  Since they did not differentiate themselves from other lawyers, I am afraid they were viewed as a commodity.  Given the downturn in the economy, many of these generalists are now working as a contract employee for law firms “sometimes during graveyard shifts” reading and coding documents on line at a rate of $33 to $100 per hour.  Now, what was the original question….generalist at $60 per hour or specialist at $1,000 per hour?

When I give an example like this, I am often challenged that years of experience is essential for being famous for something.   Tell that to the lawyers who decided to focus on social media or mobile applications law last year.  They are now the experts and famous for something that did not exist three years ago.   Another example of the power of being specific.  Be famous for something.

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