This blog posting is an opinion piece for young friends who find themselves versatile and good at many things but often find that the world seems to favour those who are specialised narrowly. Say, you are good at studies, sports, music and organising teams but everybody seems to only talk about the geeky topper in your class or the dumb sports star in your class.
One of my strengths is versatility — and I have always enjoyed it. I like learning/ doing many different things and combining them creatively in my work. For example, I can combine understanding of science, technology, business, finance, law, and philosophy in my work and use it creatively in the practice of technology management and entrepreneurship. But I can tell you that it is hard to build on your versatility (except in roles where you are in the driving seat and building/shaping the organisation’s agenda).
Most large organisations and societies like specialists. They like people who conform to the ideal of that organisation/ society. For example, I work for a research organisation and the ideal is of a conventional scientist pursuing his/her narrow area of specialty over a career of 30 years with a solitary focus on peer recognition. In such large organisations, versatile people are mavericks. And often such organisations are puzzled on how to deal with these mavericks.
Leaders of such organisations often worry how to recognise and reward versatile people and pen up opportunities for them. I was once advised by one of my mentors that I run the risk of “falling between stools”. What he meant was that my organisation had a “scientist” career track and an “administrator/manager” career track and it would be suicidal for me to try to do both. He had a point! But then should I have chosen one “stool” to stand on or follow my heart?
Based on my experience, I have the following recommendation for versatile people — if you wish to follow your heart and continue enjoying/leveraging your versatility, then build your own organisations (or work in small organisations)! You have to be leaders who set the agenda so as to thrive as versatile people. Or else chances are that you will have to sell your soul to the specialists and conformists, and end up as a mediocre specialist!