Q: Can you specialize too narrowly?

Philip Morgan

A good question from my post opt-in survey:

Can you specialize too narrowly?

I like re-answering this question from time to time because I get to use fun illustrations in my answer. Yes, you can specialize too narrowly. But also, you’re exceedingly unlikely to because… well, this is where it gets fun. You are unlikely to specialize too narrowly for the same reason you are unlikely to walk into the business end of this machine:

Every instinct in you will prevent you from actually specializing too narrowly. You’d have to be ignoring every feedback mechanism from the market and every instinct and habit that years of being a generalist have left you with. Here’s another example. Imagine that you want to kayak up to the face of the Hoover Dam on the Lake Mead side. These are the intake towers to the generation plant of the Hoover Dam:

How many signals would you have to ignore and over how long a period of time would you have to ignore them to end up kayaking straight into one of those intake towers and into the turbines of the Hoover Dam? Said differently: it’s far, far, far more likely that you’ll kayak all the way up to the face of the dam and not end up kayaking into an intake tower because you’ll have time plus a continuous stream of feedback giving you ample ability to course-correct along the way.[1] Specialization, especially in the early days, is the same. It’s not a face tattoo where you get one chance to get it right. It takes a few years to turn your decision about how to specialize (you could make 3 of those in the next 10 seconds if you wanted to) into a market position, which is really your reputation in the market, which is more or less the same as a personal brand. Those few years are the implementation period for your specialization decision. During this implementation period, you’ll get feedback from the market. (You should definitely favor rapid short-cycle feedback during this time to learn and adapt more quickly.) Even if you did decide to specialize too narrowly, you would have to ignore an immense amount of feedback during the implementation period to stick with that too-narrow specialization decision throughout the entire implementation period. That would be the same as walking into a wood chipper or kayaking into an intake tower on the Hoover Dam. It would require you to wear a 100% effective blindfold and earplugs and a lot of bad luck for that to happen. Don’t worry about specializing too narrowly. Instead, focus on getting rapid market feedback on your early-stage specialization decision. Good feedback mechanisms and a good implementation are what makes for a great specialization decision. I have a workshop that helps with that, coming up in early February. :) /workshops/specialization-workshop/ 15 of 20 seats are available. Keep building; keep taking risks y’all, -P Notes: 1: You almost certainty can’t actually kayak all the way up to the face of the Hoover Dam because preventing that would be one of the main ways you would avoid having to rescue one dingaling a week from their own stupidity, and there are about 7 million pounds of what are called trash racks on the intake towers to prevent both trash and kayakers from getting ingested into the dam’s turbines, but let’s not let those details get in the way of a fun illustration here. :)