Why Those Who Specialize Will Win

The answer - Amazon's Kiva robots.

You can see them in action on YouTube. It's really quite amazing, to say the least.

The reality is automation, Optical Character Recognition, Non-relational Structured Query Language, 3-D printing, block-chain, and artificial intelligence are closing the gap between machine and human abilities.

You don't have to know what all those individual terms mean, but you do have to know this - machines and computer programs have been helping us do physical tasks for so long we are comfortable having them around.  A new era is here. Machines and computer programs are learning to perform cognitive tasks

Back to the Kiva robots. Not only are they physically carrying inventory around a warehouse, their every move is decided by a computer program. And has been for almost three years so it's not exactly bleeding edge technology! Seriously, go watch them in action.

True, businesses still need human input. However, communication technology allows companies to hire the best regardless of their physical locations and not just whoever is locally available.

To be blunt - average just won't cut it In the era of intelligent machines.

Having in-depth specialty knowledge in your field gives you a better chance at being the best.

This is why specialists will win.

Focus

Specialists have streamlined workflows that give them the ability to focus. I hear business owners talk about being overwhelmed or not having enough hours in the day repeatedly. A large reason for these feelings is the constant switching from task to task that a "jack of all trades" has to do. Specialty creates alignment between the types of work you do so you can focus.

Practice

Specialists use their expertise over and over. Some people are born with natural ability, true. But, the greater majority of people are the best because they practice, a lot. The more you practice the more efficient you become. If you're in business you know just how important efficiency can be. 

Motivation

Specialists get to build mastery of their work. Mastery is a big motivator even at times more motivating that money. Providing your customers and clients meaningful value with your expertise is way more gratifying that cranking out the same old same.

Pricing Power

Specialists get higher prices and fees because of their depth of knowledge. You are providing more value. Your pricing isn't based on the time it's based on knowledge, and specialized knowledge isn't available from just anyone. Anyone can sell time.

I've heard arguments from the generalists camp against specializing your skills. There seems to be three I see over and over. However, these arguments against seem to make some pretty big assumptions.

1 - A specialty can become obsolete

My counter argument this is our entire world is changing at a pace we have never experienced before. Nobody's skill set will stay the same for their entire career. Everybody has to learn and adapt. It's just now we are beginning to compete with machines that are truly intelligent. The basic tasks will be done by them not humans. 

2 - A specialist can't understand the connections between different systems, or relate to different people.

I find this argument a little insulting.

It assumes a specialist has blinders on. Entrepreneurs are problems solvers. Entrepreneurs interact with every aspect of their companies, and if they can't get all the parts moving in the same direction the business will never take off. 

Any business owner learns very quickly how to work with different personalities. Any business owner knows human behavior is complex and specific to each individual. 

3 - A specialist has a smaller customer base

It is true that someone with a broader range of general skills can market to more people. But, if your skills are roughly equal to the next person's, you put your business in a very undesirable situation. You will begin to compete on price, and that is just a "race to the bottom." 

How to specialize without the downsides

1 - Stay connected to your industry as a whole

Find a community within your industry. Connecting with other businesses that serve your industry, but don't provide your specialty is a great source of referrals. Staying connected to others in your field helps you spot upcoming trends, and keeps you up to date on changes. 

2 - Stay aware of the macro changes happening outside your industry

Most change is fueled by technology. Pay close attention to big shifts in technology that can change customer behavior. Wal-Mart is shelling out big bucks to play catch-up to Amazon because they were oblivious to changing customer behavior. Can we say autonomous cars anyone?

3 - Evaluate changes in your industry for opportunities 

You can't assume what you specialize in today will be valuable tomorrow. Always be aware of what is ahead so you can realign your knowledge and stay valuable.

A computer will always be able to calculate faster and more accurately than you can. Google's DeepMind computer program AlphaGo just beat the best human Go player. This demonstrates the point that computers are quickly gaining ground on decision making as well.

Are you aware of the changes intelligent machines are bringing to your industry?

Are you ready to embrace that change and stay relevant in your industry?

I created a template to help you specialize without the downsides. You can download it below. 

What is your opinion on specialists vs generalists? I would love to hear what you think, so leave a comment below.

I want to recommend Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World." It provided inspiration and insights for this post, but it covers so much more. I believe any business owner should read it.

Susan BrownComment