If you are not turning into an expert you’re in trouble. The generalist is dead.

For many years I wondered what the real difference was between being good and being great. How do you clearly define it? What is it that puts a person or an organization at a different level than the rest? And I did read Jim Collins’ book which addresses the subject but I got my simple answer in a Homer Simpson DUH! moment watching TV. (How else do you achieve a Homer Simpson DUH! moment?) Ironically it was a General Motors commercial that quoted: “Amateurs work until they get it right. Professionals work until they can't get it wrong” Too bad it was just a commercial and far from being reflective of their company culture. GM would have benefited by putting into practice. It’s just a simple quote that can be considered inspiring but it defines the current competitive environment that all organizations face.


Business is getting tough. Customer are more and more demanding and it’s a simple fact: If you try to get into something that is not your core competence there is a good chance you will fail and it will cost you. You just can’t get it wrong and to achieve that level you need to become an expert in your field, a specialist with great depth and experience that can anticipate challenges and foresee problems.


These days it’s not enough to be smart, quick on your feet or a hard worker. That makes for a great fire fighter and problem solver and if you’re doing that today you are one step behind. It’s the era of the problem avoider not the problem solver.


And with that ladies and gentlemen the generalist is dead. Learning curves are unbearable and the current competitive environment is here to change the way we manage our careers and what is required to be a successful executive.


Let’s start with the root. Let’s start with the companies that hire these executives and how they are being forced to transform. It’s where it starts. Innovative, highly competitive companies need focus but focus has a price. Most of the time focus comes with a smaller sized market and that can mess up volumes and consequently profit margins. As a consequence most companies are seeking product and industry focus while expanding their regional reach to achieve their volume and profit requirements. Enter the global factor and the need for executives with international experience and a high level of expertise within niche products and industries.


This get’s very tricky from a talent and career management perspective. Lady experience makes it complicated because she is high maintenance and requires time. Ask anybody who is on top of their game. It does not happen by chance and it does not happen quickly. Defining a career path and making career decisions is getting more and more complicated. You can’t iterate as much and a mistake can cost you precious time.


Every position, every project, every international assignment (it’s almost a must now) is a building block that creates your personal product offering. Each element defines the depth of your expertise and your value as an executive. If you are thinking about your next position you must be clear on how it fits in the big picture as one of those building blocks.


A great career is no longer defined by getting some steps right you simply can’t afford to get them wrong.

Views: 82

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 15, 2010 at 11:59pm
Dear Jose,
I am very much alive as are thousands of my generalist colleagues. We are doing very well, thank you very much but thank you so much for the lovely obit.

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