Rejecting specialization

What’s the obvious way to build a successful career? Become very good at a specific task and then earn lots of money from it for a long time. This is known as specialization. I don’t like that, and I’ll tell you why.

The first (but not necessarily most important) reason for my dislike of specialization is this: Specialization is inherently risky.

What makes me say that? Specialization is risky because it is dependent on there being a market for a specific skill. But markets change all the time. Some skills become irrelevant as technology develops. Markets can be dramatically affected by legislation and regulation, to the point that demand for skills can decrease suddenly.

Consider my own full-time work as an example. I work in investment administration for a multi-manager. It is quite conceivable to me that my job could be done by a piece of software. If that happens, demand for my skill in investment administration will drop dramatically in a short space of time. If I am relying on that skill for all or most of my income, I’m setting myself up for financial disaster by investing all of my time and energy into this one skill.

A much more sensible strategy for earning money would be income diversification. If I could have multiple sources of income that make use of my myriad skills (and perhaps some sources of passive income) I’d suffer much less from the loss of one source of income than if I only had that one source to lose.

The second reason I dislike specialization is this: Specialization is boring.

Let me clarify. I don’t think my job is boring. I do think quite strongly that my job gets more interesting as I become more competent. What i mean when I say specialization is boring concerns my other skills that I don’t use as much as my one “specialized” skill.

I’ll use myself as an example again. Aside from my investment administration skills, I have a few other skills that generally only feature in my life as hobbies. They are: music (I’m a pianist), writing (this blog, my racing blog at http://chrisonf1.com, and some other projects I’m working on), home-making (my wife works longer hours than I do, and therefore I end up dealing with most of the household tasks),  and driving (I do a bit of amateur racing) to name a few.

The problem with specialization in this context is the neglect of my other skills in favour of my one most marketable skill, simply because that one skill most easily puts money in my bank account.

But what about my other skills? I’d love to spend more time playing and writing music, writing articles like this one, making my home a haven for my family and tearing around a race-track. I’d be more interesting, happier, more fulfilled and probably more relaxed in general if I could find a way to do all of that.

Thirdly, specialization is inefficient.

Doing the same thing all day every day is… impossible. At least for me. I work an 8 hour day. I very much doubt I’m productive for 8 hours. That’s not because I don’t put effort into my job. I do. It’s more because I, as a human being, am not capable of concentrating for that long.

My day gets broken up into productive sessions, separated by distracting activities which include talking to my colleagues, reading articles, drinking coffee, communicating with my family and friends, organising non-work activities (dinners, etc) and browsing social media.

Estimates for productivity of office workers go below 3 hours out of an 8 hour day. That sounds appalling, but it’s believable. I have quite a busy job (it’s the busiest one I’ve done so far in my short life), so I’d guess I’m probably productive for a fair amount more than 3 hours in an average day. But it’s certainly not a full 8 hours for me.

If I could have a shorter work day (but still do the same amount of work – more than possible in my opinion), I’d have more time to spend on my neglected skills, which would be of great benefit to me without incurring any cost to myself or my employer.

Fourthly, specialization is disempowering.

That might sound counter-intuitive. Surely becoming very good at something is immensely empowering? Of course it is. What is disempowering is the knock-on effect of being useless at everything else.

Once again, I’ll use myself as an example. I can work out the details of complex financial transactions at work, which makes me feel very good about myself.

But when I get home, and find that I have a couple of loose stairs that need to be stuck down, I’m all at sea. Don’t ask me to service my own car (I did it once – it took forever and I needed lots of help), unblock a drain, install a satellite dish or tile a floor.

There are, of course, lots of people who specialize in doing all of those tasks that confound me at the first step (pun intended). In order to get a task done, all I have to do is pay one of those specialized individuals some money and it gets done for me.

But wouldn’t it be great to be able to do the things I want done by myself? I think so. I’d feel enormously empowered if I didn’t have to call someone every time something relatively minor went wrong in my life.

Time to invest in myself

Specialization could be described as: undiversified investing in my ability to produce income from a specific skill or skill-set.

Based on that description, specialization is certainly not for me. I’d rather invest time, energy and money in all of my skills. The likely result? A happier, more interesting, more relaxed, wealthier, more secure me.

Published by Chris Cameron-Dow

I'm fanatical about racing. Driving, watching, following, analysing, everything.

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