Specialization is No Longer the Path to Success — This Simple Life Hack Can Boost Your Career and Business

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It is a common belief that a razor-sharp focus on a single talent or skill is ideal for business success. The generalist or jack-of-all-trades is rarely considered optimal. Corporations often want employees to “stay in their lane” at work, where crossing into other skills or departments isn’t encouraged or allowed.

A number of professions, like legal and medical, require specialization. Industry consultants and experts often focus on a niche service. Production lines need workers to be proficient in one specific set of tasks. Cultivating expertise in a defined field or role is necessary for any career. Specializing in a particular talent or specific skill has its benefits.

But, specialization can also be limiting and is not the sole path to success. Leaders and workers must be increasingly more flexible and adaptable in today’s challenging economy and tech-powered world. That means rapidly learning and experiencing new and unexpected things related to their jobs. Even in careers and industries that require specialization, there has been a need to expand horizons. For example, restaurant owners must become tech-savvy and well-versed in e-commerce, food delivery apps, point-of-sale systems and social media marketing. Bringing a business online is a growing trend known as “skill-stacking.” It can potentially help you, your workers and your organization.

Related: Why Being a Specialist Can Hurt Your Career Success

The premise of skill stacking is simple: be a generalist instead of a specialist. Rather than deep proficiency in one line of work, you aim to gain experience across many relevant practices. Obtaining these experiences can be applied to most job roles and at any stage of your career. Building a flexible and capable workforce across a broader range of business capabilities can help drive your company forward. For leaders, a working knowledge of all facets of your organization’s needs can have infinite upside. For workers and job seekers, skill-stacking can enable you to increase your value while advancing your career. In entrepreneurship, it is not optional. You have to be capable of understanding and doing everything, especially at an early-stage startup.

I first encountered skill-stacking in college at UW-Madison. I was an Econ major exposed to wide-ranging areas of macroeconomics. At the time, I thought about how to apply what I was learning in the real world if I wasn’t going to be a trader or an economist. However, it taught me a generalist skill set —thinking differently to recognize the value of gaining information and understanding across a broad spectrum of ideas and practices. I developed a willingness and interest to learn how to tackle just about everything. Today, I use skill-stacking daily as a founder and CEO and encourage our team members at BriteCo to do so.

Related: 5 Invaluable Soft Skills to Seek in Your Next Hire

For example, I knew little about digital marketing when I started my company. I am now proficient enough to help guide and drive results from learning and doing it. Am I an expert? No. Do I know enough to be dangerous? I do. I can recognize when something isn’t accurate or working as intended and call it out. I can think strategically with enough tactical understanding to be an asset beyond my traditional role. It has helped. The more exposure to new and different business functions relevant to your company, the more you can learn how things work and where you can best contribute. Being a generalist helps you access other ways of thinking, approaches and insights you may not have gained otherwise. Building on top of your core expertise, you gain more.

It’s not just about knowledge but how you obtain the knowledge. It’s about setting a base of expertise that serves as your “personal infrastructure” and building on top of it. That’s the goal. Today, my infrastructure has gained depth and breadth across various experiences, skills and insights relevant to running my company. This is the skill-stacking effect.

Related: How to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable, No Matter Your Age — Lessons for Entrepreneurs

As a founder, CEO and leader, you can incorporate skill-stacking into your work by evaluating your current personal infrastructure. Then, build out the areas that you aren’t as familiar with. These might include focusing on your customer support or learning from a third-party service provider of a critical business goal such as paid search or publicity. Keep an open mind and be curious. Make it a point to engage differently with a more hands-on, engaged approach. Continuously learn and participate. To instill the value of skill-stacking in your organization, encourage employees to explore and expand their infrastructure. Make it an integral part of your company culture.

I prefer to learn new skills by doing. My research typically involves talking directly to people, hearing their perspectives and sharing their expertise. I also follow many business experts on social media. Others may prefer a more traditional textbook way. Some opt for online and on-campus courses and classes. All of these approaches to skill-stacking can be effective. Consider what works best for you and offer your employees various options.

Try to include learning by doing whatever is possible. A direct, hands-on experience can provide unequaled value. Regularly check in with people and see how they’re progressing. Encourage cross-participation and continuous sharing of execution experiences. Building a skill stack personally and across your organization can pay big dividends personally and professionally.

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