To specialize or generalize?

To specialize or generalize?

I've heard that finding a fulfilling career is like finding the ideal pair of shoes. Sometimes you need to try many different ones to get the best fit. Interesting comment piece by Mark Geoghegan from Insurance Insider on a recently published book called "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein. The central theme is that rather than hyper-specialization (think "Outlier" by Malcolm Gladwell, and the 10,000 hours theory required for mastery of a field), it is the generalist who is primed to excel - especially in complex and less predictable fields of endeavour. 

As a child, I was somewhat of a dilettante, playing musical instruments as well as being in various sports teams (none to a particularly elite standard!), so it's a topic which resonates. Specialty commercial insurance (and cyber insurance in particular) - as the name suggests - lends itself to a high degree of specialization, which reflects the majority of my career to date. In my role at CyberCube now I have a different perspective, having moved from inside the insurance industry to serve it from within a technology company. 

The more time we spend in a niche area, the more specialization and hence value we bring to an organization. The conundrum is that in order to take the next step up the ladder, a broader experience may be required to be successful, which tends to create less value in the short term for an organization. 

Being pigeon-holed as the "cyber underwriter" is something I wrestled with earlier in my career. It has served me well, but I did not want to be known as only that. One challenge I observed is that many of my peers had very similar underwriting backgrounds so, with hindsight, we were subject to the perils of group-think. I spent some time deliberately pushing (with mixed success) to get experience in different areas across geography, product, and function. There were some well-intentioned corporate efforts at expanding career experience with "global mobility" drives but often theory hit the buffers when confronted with the business reality of budgets, personnel, timing, and political support. 

At CyberCube we are proud of our diverse team from a wide range of nationalities, professions and disciplines - underwriters, catastrophe modelers, actuaries, software engineers, cybersecurity specialists, economists, and lawyers, to name a few. Collectively we are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to some of the hardest challenges in cyber risk analytics, and by extension, the insurance industry. However, we recognize that is not enough. We need broad perspectives and new ways of thinking to drive innovation in how we tackle the problems the market faces. 

To attract and retain the best talent, we need to offer exposure and experience to different aspects of our business and the market. That's why we have introduced our first secondment program. This allows people to work in a different geography or function and experience a different part of the business. We also have a new mentoring program to support career planning and guidance for our team members. 

This does not address all of our needs, but it's a start to support the innovation we need to be successful. Range is definitely something to encourage and celebrate. So here's to the person who tries on many different career "shoes", and learns from the experience of the blisters along the way. 

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