On our journey into the workforce, we’re taught the importance of specialization. Much like an athlete, we’re told to focus narrowly on a skill and hone a craft.
Then, we’re introduced to companies at an internship or our first job and specialized roles are reinforced. If we’re lucky, we may be placed in a rotational program, but ultimately we’re being introduced to a bunch of specific roles with very narrow career paths: accounting, product, marketing, PR, design, sales, etc.
This always irked me. I felt my greatest skill was being more of a chameleon because I could shift into different roles and mindsets in different settings.
The problem? There are no job postings for chameleons.
However, study successful people — founders, CEOs, entrepreneurs — and you find a common theme: They’re not specialists. They’re mostly chameleons or generalists. Sure, they have specialized skills, but their ability to thrive as leaders stems from their ability to excel at all sorts of things. They can motivate others. They can write. They can shape product experience. They can sell. They can strategize. They can articulate vision. They can oversee and lead execution. They can do a lot.
They’re anything but specialized. They’re utility players that have risen into prominence due to their adaptable nature.
How to Recession-Proof Your Career
- Upskill in a new area.
- Raise your hand for unrelated projects.
- Seek out new roles when you switch jobs.
- Read, read and read some more.
For those readers unfamiliar with the phrase utility player, it often refers to a baseball player that can play multiple positions. Take Kiké Hernández, a super utility player for the Boston Red Sox. He can play nearly every position on the field. Hernández has made a career – and a lot of money – out of being able to fulfill many different roles whether in the outfield or infield.
Just as a utility player is critical to a baseball team’s success over the course of a long season, so is a utility player who can play different roles for a growing business.
For you young people out there navigating your career path. I have a recommendation for you: Become the best possible utility player.
If you want to give it a shot, here’s what I suggest you do.
What’s a Utility Player?
Upskill in a New Area
If you’re a content marketer, take a design class. If you’re a designer, learn video production or animation. If you’re a publicist, learn about product design and product marketing. For example, Value Creation Labs’ creative director, Tyler Scholl, has been learning Scrum, Agile and Motion Design with different leading organizations for all sorts of upskilling, including:
- Scrum Inc. and the Agile Education program: He recently completed the Registered Scrum@Scale Practitioner™ course in order to better understand how to improve efficiency and operational excellence across organizations wanting to drive better business outcomes and agility.
- For animation work, he’s taken classes with School of Motion, Motion Science and Motion Design School.
As a result, Value Creations Labs has added more design services to our product suite. For one partner, we recently produced a series of animated GIFs, custom animations for their website and social media marketing.
I really encourage readers to check out Agile Education powered by Scrum Inc. Their curriculum and expert educators do a wonderful job helping individuals refine their mindsets and gain insights into solutions for large-scale organizational challenges. The goal is always to focus on value delivered to customers, and to structure the way of working to reflect that outcome while reducing waste along the way.
Raise Your Hand for Unrelated Projects
If you’re an engineer, volunteer to join a branding session or a go-to-market strategy brainstorm.
This is actually how I did it. When I was a young publicist, I was drawn toward sales and marketing, and would often volunteer to join product sales and marketing strategy calls. As my knowledge grew, so did my confidence, and I began developing my own ideas on new marketing tactics with which to experiment.
Seek New Roles When You Switch Jobs
Whether you look within your current company or at roles at new companies, this is a great way to accelerate your career growth. One of my best buds is a prime example. He began his career in IT at a big retail company. When a job opened up on the digital marketing team, he jumped at the opportunity and secured the position. He found he was really good at project management, so went to school for his MBA and soon after found himself with his pick of exciting product management roles. He jumped ship to another big retailer. In the span of only a few years, he had completely transformed himself and was earning more than double his original salary.
Read, Read and Read Some More
Not sure where to start? Check out Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York Times bestselling author David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields — especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel.
Think outside the box of what your company is offering you in terms of career advancement. Whether it’s getting an MBA, upskilling through Agile Education, raising your hand to take on a task outside of your wheelhouse or taking a leap of faith to apply for an entirely different role, you’ll only be rewarded with better perspective and greater opportunity to thrive in the modern economy.
Not only is this a winning strategy to become indispensable to your company and keep your job, but this just might be your ticket to the C-suite – or better yet, your ticket to starting your own business.
Anyone who wants anything bad enough, you’re going to figure out how to do it. Set your goals and map out how to get there. I hope some of these tips help, but at the end of the day, hustle, hard work and the willingness to take on new challenges is going to help you become the utility player with whom anyone would be lucky to collaborate.