There’s an old saying in business: “If you’re not growing and transforming, then you’re losing business and heading backwards.” That statement refers to companies, but the same goes for individuals. If you are not growing and learning something new, then you are too content with living in the status quo, waiting for someone else to change your world. Wouldn’t you want to direct change before someone else does?
It then becomes a matter of knowing how to make that change without pigeonholing yourself. To help bring my thought to life here, let’s start by looking at three ways to attach one material to another – a nail, a sticker and a thumbtack.
First, the nail. By itself, it’s pointed so that when you nail it into wood it’s secure and hard to remove. The nail delves into one very specific area and represents being a niche expert in your field, with real depth of knowledge. This is someone you might call a “guru” in a specific area of focus.
Let’s think about the sticker. It is broad and thin, representing someone who is a “generalist” with limited but useful knowledge in many areas related to their field. Generalists know enough about the multiple areas of their department so that they can be flexible and fill in for someone who is out of the office at any time. Managers can conveniently move them around as needed, even though they don’t really have a specific expertise.
A thumbtack is both. It has qualities of the nail and the sticker. This person has both a broad knowledge of topics related to their work, but also in-depth knowledge and skills in at least one relevant discipline. Why would anyone want to be a thumbtack in this metaphor? Because when a company is reorganizing the department or looking to lay off part of their workforce, they’ll most likely value someone who is both a generalist and a niche expert. These people have more to offer the organization because they don’t have just one skill, nor are they limited in their knowledge of related functions. In other words, as a thumbtack, they are pretty good at everything and great at something!
Learn more about The Thumbtack Approach and gain more career change insight in my book, RINGMASTER: 8 Strategies For Becoming a Star In The Midst of Change.