When you’re first starting out in your career, it’s good to try new things. Bounce around a little bit from role to role, or job to job. But, after a while, you start to look like a flake. Like you can’t commit. And, trying to be good at everything can only lead to you being great at nothing.
At some point in your career you have to decide to focus. Pick your major, and become great at something.
I’ve learned this personally over the last several years of my career. But, I’ve also seen others flounder and not grow because they didn’t focus.
I’ve been thinking about this as the hour glass-shaped journey of a career. If we start at the bottom, the opportunity is wide. You can have a variety of options and opportunities to bounce to and from. But, if you want to move up in your career, the options and opportunities narrow. Eventually, you have to focus and become great at something: marketing, finance, operations, customer service. Then, when you become an executive leader (CEO, or senior executive at a large organization with a leadership rotation program), you can become a ‘generalist’ again because you have to play the role of general manager.
Look at the C-Suite of any company as a gauge. They only have a few people at that top and their all experts: CMO, CFO, CIO, etc. The only ‘generalist’ is the CEO. And, even she or he came up as a ‘specialist’ in something. That’s how she got to where she is. The best CEOs always find counterparts to balance out their weaknesses. Together, they make extraordinary executive teams and build amazing companies: Apple, Google, Virgin. The list goes on.
The toughest part of this is making the decision to focus for a long period of your career on becoming great at something. As someone that has played a variety of roles at organizations from creative (working with writers and directors on story development) to corporate strategy/dealmaker (negotiating contracts for artists, licensing of IP, financing of movies, and working with the executive team to write a business plan for follow-on funding), it’s sometimes hard for me to focus. Because of the nature of how I grew up in business, working directly with senior executives, it’s hard not to look around the organization today and say I can do any number of things.
But, somewhere along the way, I’ve become passionate about marketing. From identifying opportunities for new products that the company can develop to meet a customer need to how that brand/product is expressed and positioned in the market to how we communicate it with audiences. Even within marketing, there are deep levels of expertise that one can develop in a variety of specialties – especially at an integrated communications agency like mine. I’ve chosen to focus on brand positioning and integrated communications.
The focus is worth it – especially when you’re working towards transforming an organization. No business is built, nor transformation occurs, over night. It takes years. In fact, the greatest companies never stop evolving. So, settle in for a while and focus on becoming great at something.