There is a lot of talk about AI replacing jobs, and it probably will. But most of these don’t require specialist training. I don’t think specialist jobs (doctors, lawyers, accountants) are going away easily, or soon. In fact, in the noise, they seem to become even more valuable.
All direction of human effort towards technology has been to reduce effort, labour, a slice of a job, if not a complete job. Some can argue that every innovation is aimed at cutting some job (or part of it). A coffee machine removes the job of a person who made the coffee. But almost all jobs taken over by robots are basic. They are not specialist jobs. You can’t do a PhD in driving trucks, or selling pizza.
In a world exploding with options and abundance, we need filters on information. Machine Learning provides some, but that’s not enough. Machine Learning can tell us the answers to questions we ask, but it can’t see our blind spots, cannot tell us which are the right questions to ask. Specialists can do that. Specialists know what to google.
You need to specialize because that’s how you will be able to sustain the edge in a complex world. You need to spend more hours in educating yourself. Simpler solutions will be provided by Google, smart people will catch them fast. But smart people will not be able to quickly replicate expertise coming from years of practice and study. Even if they do have all the knowledge freely available, and a lot of it just isn’t. Even if they have the will, they won’t have the time.
Specialists cut through the noise, and so, in a more complex and noisy world, they become more important.
You can’t google everything. But as a specialist, you can look at information from Google, from Facebook, from specialized apps, and your own personal experience – and then provide answers or questions for a specific client. I don’t think algorithms are going there anytime soon.
You can grow exponentially when you specialize. A specialist’s brain is a sort of internal google. You can see something, ask yourself 10 questions in your mind and answer them at the speed of thought. As you become more and more specialized, those 10 become 100, then 1000. Apply this for long periods of time – and you become someone people pay to listen to.
The most ambitious people are looking for specialists. They are looking for A players to join their growing teams. It’s great to be a generalist when a company is starting, but as ambitious founders see higher stakes in growing companies, they want specialists – people they can rely on with their eyes closed. If you have proven expertise in anything – sales, engineering, design – they will come to you.
Growing information and options also mean people find it hard to trust others. And given advanced tools, it’s easy for someone to build a basic knowledge of most things. One of the biggest advantages specialists offer is that they can be trusted. And people are willing to pay for that.
I don’t mean that avoid the pull of becoming a generalist, or do not have a skill stack, or avoid things which you like doing. I am saying, build deep expertise in something. It is more valuable than ever before.
In the world of tomorrow, depth will be valued much more than width.