Successful Entrepreneurs are Generalists


Do you consider yourself a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’?

Do you have interest in many things and want to always experiment?

Are you unable to pin point one specific thing that you are good at?

Can you adapt yourself to different situations?

Are you versatile and creative?

Are you a Generalist?

May be its time to think of entrepreneurship and use your nature and skills to your best advantage.

The dictionary meaning of the word ‘generalist’ is:

‘One who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas.’

(Biology) ecology an organism able to utilize many food sources and 

therefore able to flourish in many habitats.

A person whose knowledge, aptitudes, and skills are applied to a field 

as a whole or to a variety of    different fields (opposed to specialist).

The journey of entrepreneurship is never a straight line but a zigzag road with lot of speed breakers and mazes. Creative thinking to find unique solutions to problems is a must in this journey. People who are not able to think out of the box or are not able to integrate the learning from many different knowledge sources rarely find successes in this journey.

Whether you are a one person company, lead a small team or head a big business, it is impossible to manage by being perfect at just one skill. An entrepreneur has to manage multiple areas in the field of operations, money, finances, accounting, people, communication, technology, legal and many more. Just being a micro specialist in one particular area is not enough for you to become and successful entrepreneur. In fact persons who are specialists in a particular field like medicine, engineering and others also become successful as entrepreneurs only when they learn the holistic bird’s eye view of business as a whole and not see it in parts.

The fact that we have top officers as General Managers in companies and Generals in Army shows the importance of generalist skills.

Having generalist skills does not mean that one has only superficial knowledge of many subjects. A Generalist must have focus, discipline, integrity, networking skills and the vision to see things as a whole rather than in parts and interrelation of each part with each other. Most religious leaders, politicians, administrators, lawyers and media professionals tend to be good at general management skills.

In today’s information technology driven world of micro specializations the generalist qualities are much needed if we want to keep on inventing the new age internet driven businesses like Facebook, Twitter and Whats App etc.

This fact is also reflected in the following article taken from the Website of Stanford Graduate School of Business:

Entrepreneurs must be generalists. To start a company, whether it specializes in building construction or Internet services, requires a variety of skills, argues Edward Lazear, and he uses data from a survey of Stanford Business School MBA alumni to prove his point.

“Those who end up being entrepreneurs study a more varied curriculum when they are in the [MBA] Program than do those who end up working for others,” writes Lazear, the Jack Steele Parker Professor of Human Resources Management and Economics.

He has been studying data from a 1997 survey in which about 5,000 Stanford MBA alumni responded to questions about their careers. Entrepreneurs, he found, are jacks-of-all-trades, not specialists. Their past work experience included a greater variety of tasks compared to classmates who went on to work for others and, says Lazear, in graduate school the entrepreneurs were more likely to have enrolled in classes that expanded their knowledge than to have specialized.

In an earlier analysis of the MBA survey, Lazear reported the overall probability that any single graduate would found a company was about 25 percent at some time in his or her career. At any given time, fewer than 7 percent were entrepreneurs. The probability of founding a business rose noticeably for individuals whose career path showed they had held a number of different types of positions. In his most recent research, Lazear looked at the courses entrepreneurs took in graduate school.

“Among Stanford alumni, those who go on to start businesses took a more general course curriculum when they were at Stanford than those who never start a business,” he writes. Rather than take eight classes in finance, for instance, and an average of three in each of four other academic areas, entrepreneurs were more likely to balance their courses among a variety of disciplines.

“This view of entrepreneurship is at odds with the intuition of those who believe that entrepreneurs are technical specialists who base their new companies on innovation,” he writes. The Stanford data and information from two other surveys “strongly rejects this view. To the extent that entrepreneurs are innovators, for the most part they are business innovators. The innovation may be as seemingly minor as recognizing that a particular street corner would be a good location for a dry cleaner. Most entrepreneurs are non-technical people who form businesses in non-technical fields.”

He cites data from the Current Population Survey, made up primarily of non-MBAs that studied the industries where entrepreneurs founded companies. In 2002, the top five industries were non-technical: construction, with 13.48 percent of companies founded by entrepreneurs; retail trade, 12.98 percent; other professional services, 11.02 percent; business services, 8.10 percent; and insurance and real estate, 6.72 percent.

An entrepreneur must also be a generalist and always remember that it’s an entrepreneur that hires the specialists not the other way round.