Can you don an additional pair of gloves?

Ace batsman K. L. Rahul keeps wickets during the final ODI cricket match between India and Australia in Bengaluru. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

“Specialist” sounds like the acme of professional excellence. In contrast, “generalist” sounds like a disappointing compromise — a case of having to check into a lacklustre mid-way house between sparkling excellence and plain utility.

However, the so-called generalist would actually be a “specialist-generalist” — the successful ones certainly are. And the future seems to belong to the “specialist-generalist”, defined as a professional almost indispensable in their main role, but can also effortlessly slip into related roles when exigency demands it.

It is not challenging at all to illustrate this breed of professionals, especially now, when a cricket-crazy India only recently watched a specialist-batsman make room for an additional pair of gloves in his kit-bag, one he would be wearing behind the stumps.

The rise of star batsman K.L. Rahul in the additional role of a wicket-keeper at the international level (he has already been a wicket-keeper in domestic and IPL cricket), during the recent one-day international series against Australia, underlines the value of multifacetedness, of how it increases the options on the table for a team. Besides the commendable performance behind the stumps, Rahul also evinced another aspect of adaptability, showing he can be as effective batting at number five, as he has been while playing in the top order.

Multiple roles

Shifting to the organisational playground, in today’s business climate, one sees a demand for something similar. Due to the advent of new and more complex job roles, as specialisations are becoming more and more nuanced due to highly advanced technologies, professionals are expected to display extreme expertise in niche areas. At the same time, with technologies and even job roles sometimes fading faster than sartorial fads, these professionals are also expected to don “multiple gloves”. Such versatility can come in handy, particularly during times of resource crunch.

“For any professional, hip-pocket skills are indispensable. They signify deep knowledge in a particular area of operation. When they possess these skills in abundant measure, they automatically earn the respect of peers and seniors in their organisation and field. So, in the early part of their career, professionals have to be focussed on developing these hip-pocket skills or vertical expertise. And subsequently, when they have risen in stature in the organisation or field on account of their vertical expertise, they have to concentrate on acquiring horizontal experiences, which are gained by becoming engaged in various other lines of operations. To draw an example from the IT industry, if someone is on the project-management side, they have to give it the number of years and time it takes to develop top-notch expertise in it. And, then to graduate to a higher managerial role in the IT set-up, the project-management professional should aim at having stints in allied sections so that they acquire a generalist-ability to function effectively there, or just to understand how they fit into the larger puzzle,” says Kannan Hariharan, former senior director, human resources, PepsiCo India. Shouldn’t organisations promote a culture that creates “specialist-generalists”?

“Whether the organisation does this or not, the employees should do it in their own interest. It may not always be possible to have short stints in related sections; in such a scenario, they should ask the management to allow them to be part of projects that will give them these horizontal experiences,” says Kannan.

Unfamiliar environment

Horizontal experiences are directly linked to a professional’s long-term career prospects, and in some extreme situations, their very survival.

Drawing an example from the animal world, generalist species — one that follows a wide range of diet and also the ability to adapt to a variety of environmental milieus — perform well in hostile conditions, which may include being thrust into totally unfamiliar habitats.

Birds that have become naturalised in environments where they have been introduced, always have a high capacity for generalist living.

To illustrate this point, V. Shantaram, director, Institute of Bird Studies, Rishi Valley, presents the story of the rose-ringed parakeets in the United Kingdom: “The rose-ringed parakeets may have been introduced accidentally or deliberately in United Kingdom, but they have thrived in their naturalised environment, especially in and around London, because they quickly got used to having fruits and seeds available in the UK, and also adapted to the low temperatures there. It is a different story that they are considered a pest by farm and orchard owners in the UK, but the fact remains that they have survived because they adapted quickly to a new environment.”

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 1:48:10 AM |

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