A “versatilist” is someone who can be a specialist for a particular discipline, while at the same time able to change to another role with the same ease (Wikipedia). A versatilist is often confused with a “generalist” because both tend to have breadth of knowledge and experiences; they both have a lot of knowledge about many things. On the other hand, given the versatilists’ ability to be an expert, they are also often misidentified as “specialist”; however, a versatilist is a unique breed that exists between these two extremes.
What is the difference between a versatilist and a generalist?
The difference between a generalist and a versatilist is the degree of competency within each domain of knowledge they know; or, the depth of knowledge. A generalist is familiar with the various domains of knowledge they have, while a versatilist becomes an expert (albeit briefly) in each domain they pursue. Generalists are philanderers in a sense, never truly committing to any particular domain of knowledge and content with superficial awareness and casual affiliation. Versatilists, on the other hand, are serial-monogamists, committing deeply to each domain with passion and intensity, but never staying for the long-haul to make a career of it.
What is the difference between a versatilist and a specialist?
A specialist is a person who knows more and more, about less and less according to William J. Mayo; a common addition is that a specialist knows more and more about less and less until they know absolutely everything about nothing. A specialist commits themselves to a single domain of knowledge for a lifetime or, at least, an entire career. They have extensive depth of knowledge, but very little breadth (although, they may mistakenly believe otherwise). A versatilist, prefers to stop long before they know everything about nothing. Because a verstilist changes between domains, they are also less likely to believe they know more about unfamiliar domains than they do.
What is the value of the versatilist?
If a generalist demonstrates “breadth” of knowledge and the specialist demonstrates “depth” of knowledge, the versatilist operates in the middle having both breadth and depth. Versatilists have the capacity (the Grit) to achieve expertise and success in a given field, but the flexibility and desire to learn new things constantly. This is their true value, because they bring the depth of knowledge from one field to another, bringing new ideas and new approaches with them. Versatilists are the spark of innovation as they can apply deep knowledge from a wide variety of domains to bear in any situation.
Versatilists are more dedicated and capable than Generalists, and more flexible and adaptable than specialist.
Why the Octopus?
The eight legs of the octopus, which can operate independently as well as in concert, is a great metaphor for the knowledge capability of the versatilist. In addition, the ability of the octopus to blend in and adapt to its surroundings perfectly mirrors the versatilists ability to adapt to any situation either by applying past skill, or quickly learning new ones.