On Skills: Should You Go Deep or Go Wide?

Yesterday, we talked about hard skills and soft skills, their differences, and some examples of each. I also asked you to make a list of your skills, whether hard or soft.

The next question is: Should you go do deep (focus on one skill) or should you go wide (develop multiple skills)?

There are pros and cons to each path. For example, focusing on one skill increases your chance to becoming the best (for someone) at that one skill. It also increases your chance to learn that one skill more quickly. However, it may limit your vision and make you blind from the other opportunities around you. On the other hand, going wide may help you explore other opportunities requiring different skills. But, you may not become the best (for someone) at one thing. 

One thing I learned by being in the freelance market is that there are more opportunities requiring multiple skills. But, it’s more difficult to get picked if there’s no one thing that makes you stand. It seems to be even more difficult to grow your practice or become recognized if there’s no one thing you’re good at doing. (By the way, going wide or going deep is the same as being a generalist or a specialist.)

What should you do? Should you go wide or should you go deep?

It depends on where you are in your career, your business, or your practice.

If you don’t know the one thing you can be the best at, it makes sense to go wide. You should explore different opportunities and learn different skills until you find your one thing. When you find it, that’s the time you go deep.

Obviously, if you already know your one thing, then you should go deep.

So far, it seems that what I’m saying is that going deep is the way and that going wide is required only to find your one thing.

Another thing I learned by being in the freelance market for the past few months is that it’s no longer enough to be great at one thing. After going deep, you still have to go wide from time to time. You still need to learn other skills. 

But, you can’t just learn any skill. You need to learn complementary skills. These are the skills that complement your one thing. These are the skills that make your one thing stand out even more.

For example, I have a degree and a license in accounting. But, what clients are looking for online are not just accountants with knowledge of accounting. They are also looking for accountants who know how to use accounting tools and software such as Quickbooks and Xero. Offline, clients are looking for accountants who know how to prepare and file their tax returns. Those are the skills that I’m in the process of learning. Those are the skills that will complement and make my accounting knowledge stand out even more.

Another example is writing. Nowadays, you cannot be just a great writer. You also need to learn how to publish and market your own writing. You need to learn how to blog and how to market your work on social media or someplace else. Of course, these are still just complementary skills. No matter how great you become at marketing your work, it wouldn’t matter if your writing is not helpful or interesting to others. You should still focus on or go deep with your main skill.

What this means is that while you go deeper into your one thing, you should go wide and learn other skills that complement it. Still, the focus remains on your one thing. You don’t even have to be the best at your complementary skills. In fact, later on, you can outsource them. But, you have to be the best (for someone) at your one thing. And that’s one thing you cannot outsource.

How about you? Do you already know what your one thing is? Do you know how you can complement it with your other skills?

 

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I’m still choosing where to focus on. I love writing. But, there are certain styles of writing I’m not yet good at such as technical writing. Also, I’m not as passionate about those styles of writing as I am with writing about my learnings and experiences. But, what the market needs are those other types of writing. On the other hand, accounting is a skill I’m already good at and, somehow, passionate about. I love numbers more than I love words. But, as I’ve mentioned, I still have to learn the complementary skills that clients need. I will keep you updated with my decision through the blog.