The venerable Chicago Sun-Times newspaper laid off all 28 of its full-time photojournalists. Instead of continuing to employ Pulitzer prizewinning photographers, they’ll now rely on an army of freelancers and, better yet, task its journalists, most of whom specialize in the production of words, with gathering quality photographs and videos to feed the hungry maw of today’s multimedia consumers.
The situation of newspapers today is sad in general, but this move is part of a larger trend toward generalists. Don’t believe me? Go to the job board of your choice and look at marketing jobs. More times than not, the posting will be asking for someone who is great at writing, strategy, social media, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, witchcraft, wizardry and underwater basket weaving.
Are there some people who genuinely are proficient at all of these skills? Sure there are. But the keyword there is proficient. There are very few people who truly excel at all of these areas. To some extent, this is because of the time needed to become great at these disparate skill sets. But more deeply than that, each of these skills require a different part of the brain. To be a great photographer or designer, you must see the world in a certain way. To be a great writer, you must hear it, absorb it, interpret it in a certain way. To be a great coder, you must understand and order the world in a certain way. For someone to be gifted with all of these viewpoints is rare.
When we look for that magical, mystical unicorn who can do it all, what we’re really saying is that we’re okay with mediocrity. We’re saying that it’s okay if everything is good enough.
I say no. Let’s fight back against creeping mediocrity with widespread awesomeness. Yes, budgets are tight. Sometimes we all have to do things that aren’t our strong suit. But if you find that one skill you’re great at, you can cross-train that skill. For instance, Jenna, our graphic designer, is fantastic at designing with a computer. She’s also an accomplished painter and one of the most fashionable people you’ll ever meet. Because of her view of the world, she can apply her skills in many areas that make sense. But if you ask her to hard code a website, you might see her break down in actual tears.
Whether you’re hiring or looking at the direction of your business, don’t look for generalists. Look for people who are deeply talented in one area and help them cultivate that gift instead of trying to force them to grow a unicorn horn and fart rainbows.
How do you encourage specific acts of awesome?