There is an old saying: “Jack of all trades; master of none.” What this means is that a generalist may be knowledgeable and skilled across a broad spectrum of activities but not represent the highest level of skill at any of those activities. Specialization requires long-term commitment to specific fields and subcategories.
A general practitioner is the logical first step for somebody suffering from an unidentified illness, but confirmation of the nature of the illness and its treatment involves specialists. The general contractor you hire to rebuild your kitchen or bathroom may know how to install dry wall, plumbing fixtures, and wiring but is unlikely to be the best at the latter two tasks. That is why, when a general contractor encounters difficulties on a job, he or she brings in a specialist—an electrician, a plumber, etc. The family physician refers patients to cardiologists, otolaryngologists, dermatologists, etc. depending on the type of illness or condition. Lawyers specialize in areas of law, such as criminal law, contracts, or family law. An individual or organization seeking the best legal representation for a specific issue approaches a lawyer or firm that specializes in that type of issue.
The alternative to specialization is to adopt a broader approach to any area of business. Just as in medicine and contracting, retailers may choose to specialize, like a store that sells only specific types of furniture or specific types of groceries, like the stalls at a farmers’ market. Many consumers are content going to a large department store like Walmart or Target; other consumers prefer trips to multiple types of stores for different items (not the furniture section of a large department store, but a store that specializes in furniture).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. It is up to the individual or firm to decide. A more general approach to business may require a larger and more diverse staff, such as lawyers who individually specialize in different areas of law but who collectively comprise the firm. An individual specialist can maintain his or her own office with minimal overhead; a larger firm that provides expertise across the board requires more square footage, more lawyers, more paralegals, more administrative assistants, etc.
There is plenty of room in the marketplace for generalists and specialists. It is up to the individual or firm to decide to which it aspires.