Your success as an entrepreneur depends on having the general skills and talents needed to succeed in an unpredictable environment. That's because when you're just launching your company on shoestring budget, you can't afford the luxury of specializing.
If you find yourself constantly wearing multiple hats, you're in luck. Expertise, it turns out, is overrated.
A recent article in The Atlantic said, "In business, esteemed (and lavishly compensated) forecasters routinely are wildly wrong in their predictions of everything from the next stock-market correction to the next housing boom."
So if you can't trust the experts to be right, who can you trust to forecast the future for your business or career?
Here's the answer: Be a generalist, not a specialist.
The Atlantic's research showed that the more specialized an expert gets, the more likely they are to be wrong. A generalized expert, however, could predict the future with much higher accuracy. If you're an entrepreneur, you should forget all the advice you heard about specializing and focus on generalizing instead.
Generalist doesn't mean be good at everything, and it doesn't mean "Jack of all trades, master of none." What it means is that you should strongly consider being highly knowledgeable in more than one subject or skill set. I think three is the magic number.
I started my career as a technology consultant. I quit my job and started writing every day. Those 150 blog posts eventually turned into a book. A funny thing happens when you write a book: You want people to read it. So, naturally, I learned digital marketing from scratch to push people to buy my book. That means that my three skill-sets are technology, marketing, and writing.
With all these skills I learned, I can now do consulting, marketing, or project management in the IT space. A single specialization no longer limits me. I currently own a niche in my industry where I can do IT marketing for technology companies. These skills have allowed me to become an entrepreneur who can do almost anything I am tasked with. The funny thing is I use all of these skill sets to differentiate myself. And the best people I hire also happen to be people that are good at two to three things.
I believe that this is the core of being an entrepreneur. Understanding the problem and opportunity areas of different industries is how billion-dollar companies are created. I've personally seen a lot of people bail on their careers and start something new in their mid-30s after picking up skill sets that allowed them to be more powerful in a business setting.
Also, it's often trial and error. But after each failure, entrepreneurs learn a new skill set that they can build upon. Not only do they learn new skill sets, but they also open up opportunities they wouldn't have by working a 9-5 job where you would never get the first-hand experience of working on something new. It's smart not to overinvest in a specialization until you're sure it's what's going to differentiate you.
Master three skill sets, and you'll be unstoppable.