Revisit: Were We Raised to be Generalists?

by Emily Jasper on August 9, 2016


photographer, camera, lens

After years of wearing all the hats, it turned out I could specialize in something. But only because I appreciate the greater context of digital marketing.

I spent the last few years in marketing agencies and it’s easy to specialize there. You’re a copywriter, you’re a designer, you’re a developer. If you’re on a small team, there’s a chance to try something new. One of my clients needed me to be a press agent, so I thought back to high school journalism, made piles of interview questions, and got celebrity sound bites at huge industry events (yes, I applied high school skills for a Fortune 20 company). On the other hand, we had a holiday campaign running that needed more creative. I grabbed my phone and just started taking photos, many of which we used for the social posts.

Team player means something different with the team is constantly shifting.

Small projects give you a chance to experiment and add more skills to your arsenal. When you try new things, you might find there’s something that you really love. For me, it was what we call “back-end content strategy.” Ann Rockley at Content Management Institute says, “Back-end strategists (typically known as intelligent content strategists) have a love for structure, scalability, and technology. They make recommendations about how to use technology – hardware and software – to handle all that content in efficient and powerful ways.”

When I wrote the first post about being a generalist, my experience with this kind of big-scale digital strategy was focused on marketing how content was applied to large Human Capital Management systems. I was a step removed from the actual application, but moving to the agency side, I had a chance to do more through websites, e-commerce, social channels, direct mail, and more. I always wanted to make systems and structure, not just a great campaign.

But, to manage all those moving pieces, I had to have at least a small experience with each. It’s the advice I gave to my agency-only colleagues: take a chance to generalize before you specialize. Snag small projects to try out new things, see how you like them. And if you can’t do it at work, network and volunteer. Want to run a social media campaign? Your local alumni chapter probably needs help. Want to get into fashion? Talk to a local maker or get a part-time job at a boutique.

There are lots of ways to step back and generalize before you stop everything to specialize.