18. Silo-Busters (Generalists vs Specialists)

Welcome to Episode 18 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of snackable insights to help you navigate the love/hate world of creativity and marketing.

My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, and whether you work in advertising, design, gaming, fine art, commercial art, content creation, a maker or imagineer, today we’re here to talk about generalists and specialists. Is one better than the other, or do we need both?

There’s a number of ways of looking at this, so expect a wild ride of point of views and opinions.

The Generalist vs the Specialist

For years, consultants have told us that it’s the specialist who makes the major breakthroughs and the major bucks. The example I’ve heard most is the comparison between a surgeon and a MD in the medical world. Your MD knows a lot about a lot of things. A surgeon knows everything about one thing. And she makes the bigger money.

The Advantages of the Specialist

With the extra education and training that usually comes with becoming a generalist, you can demand more pay and have a chance to rise to the top of your field.

The Disadvantages

Absolute focus on one thing can create blinders.  Can become boring. Stagnant. Innovation often relies on connecting the dots. But if all your dots are bunched together, your thinking may not stretch your perspective. Your vision may become myoptic, or any other number of college entrance exam type of words.

The Advantages of the Generalist

You get to experience a lot. Spread your field of vision. Cross-pollinate your ideas with those of others. Plot dots all over your mental map.

The Disadvantages

Spreading yourself too thin. Leaving spaces that can’t be tied together or bridged. Threads that can’t hold such far-flung thoughts together.

The Balance

Like most things in life, balance is the key. Balance, unfortunately, is kinda boring to most people. It also requires a lot of work. And it doesn’t come via a silver bullet. Ever refer to someone as well-balanced? Probably not. Maybe one day you can help change that.

So Where is the Balance?

Well, that’s a damn good question. And I’ve got an answer for you that has it down to a T. T-Shaped people that is.

T-Shaped People

Maybe the best way to describe a person with just the right blend of general and specialty skills is the term “T-Shaped People”. Think of it this way, the cross-stroke of the letter T represents your broad general knowledge. You can write a bit. Edit a bit. Maybe shoot some, too. But your real strength is in art direction. Establishing the look and feel of a piece. That’s the downstroke of the T, and what you specialize in. Yet, there will be times, whether it’s because of budgets, workload, passion, availability, whatever…that you combine 2 or more of your skills on one project. This flexibility and range may help futureproof you when downtimes come. And downtimes will always come.

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None.

You hear this all the time in describing someone with a wide breadth of knowledge. But I like this response from a legend of the business:

The Key Word is Trade. A Trade Requires Many Skills and Tools. I Like a Carpenter with Lots of Awesome Tools.  – Alex Bogusky, Co-Founder &

Chief Creative Engineer Crispin, Porter & Bogusky

To me, that’s a pretty balanced notion. These are the kind of people Alex refers to as Swiss Army Knife Creatives. It’s an interesting topic; one I can’t help to filter through my personal story.

Me

This is a very interesting topic for me, because somewhere on the continuum of Jack-of-All-Trades to Renaissance Man, you’ll find yours truly. (Hopefully you’ll find me closer to the latter than the former.) Over the years, it certainly has helped to keep things interesting. But I don’t use terms like Swiss Army Knife, or anything like that. Instead, I prefer to be called a silo-buster. Something I’ve defined in my biography.

Silo-Buster

An account guy, a creative guy and a planner all walk into a bar.

The funny thing is, they’re all the same person. Me– Wegs.

No joke. In the course of my career, I’ve run sizeable departments in all 3 disciplines.

For all sorts of agencies:

General Market/Multicultural/Start-Ups/Independents/Holding Companies.

I was even the Director of Marketing for the Houston Rockets basketball team.

No wonder some people have dubbed me a “Silo-buster”.

Someone able to see all sides of an issue. 

Someone who knows how to collaborate with all sorts of people and personalities to help tell great stories.

Someone who has been in nearly everybody’s shoes and knows how to motivate and lead them to collaborate and push one another to do what they never imagined they could do before.

That’s what your client is doing. That’s what you’re known for.

In an industry undergoing daily reinvention, it’s good to have someone who can 
spur cross-pollination across every discipline, department and team.

Someone who can get the most out of people and their ideas. 

Someone with the knack for going over, under, around or even right through the frustrating barriers that keep people from creating their best work together. 

Someone who can delegate, but won’t abdicate key responsibilities, especially 
when the team needs someone to step up at crucial moments on the biggest stage.


That someone is me. Wegs. A silo-buster. With the experience, empathy, communication skills and drive to not just manage challenging pieces of business, but to lead them…There’s a bit of my own personal propaganda for you.

Let’s Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)

…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m Wegs, your world-weary host hoping that you can avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made during my otherwise adventurous career. Now back to the show with one final thought on generalists versus specialists.

Learn how to think before you focus on one thing to think about. Your education is not just about a piece of paper, it’s about how to take in a complex world and simplify it for the better good.

Well, that about wraps up my preaching and our 18th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck.

Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, thank you for listening in. Until then, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter at NavigatingF. Remember, we’re all in this together, so thanks for doing your best to buck the cluck. Here’s to you. Here’s to the future.