In this world, there are specialists and generalists. We’re all familiar with phrases like: “Hone your craft” or “Stay in your lane”; phrases commonly associated with the old-hat view to pick one craft you’re good at and stick with it for the rest of your life – putting in your proverbial “10,000 hours”. Well, that may ring true for some, but what if you’re a generalist? Having multifaceted skill-sets within various fields of work.
Within the creative industries, there are 12 sub-sectors: advertising & marketing; architecture; crafts; design; film, TV, video, radio and photography; creative tech; publishing; museums & galleries; music & performing arts; animation; video games; heritage. On average, 58,000 people graduate with a creative arts degree each year in the UK; pursuing a creative career is, ostensibly, proliferating within the new generation. According to the Creative Industries Federation, there’s been a 28.6% ascent in creative jobs since 2011. More than 2 million jobs exist within the creative industries and, better yet, 87% of them are future-proof, which means these pesky robots won’t steal them.
However, 95% of creative industry businesses are actually micro businesses. Smaller, micro organisations tend only to have 10 or fewer employees busting their balls to scrape a decent turnover. Employers cannot afford to take on a number of specialists to do one job only; it’s just not feasible. Thus, with a smaller team on hand, employers are reliant on their trusted employees to be able to adapt and take on multiple projects with varying skill-sets. This begs the question: is there room for specialists anymore in the creative industries? How do you stand out in an oversaturated crowd?
Contrarily, how do you define a multidisciplinary, exactly? Currently, for a specialist, it is still much easier to define and market who you are and your job. A generalist, on the other hand, might seem like a scatterbrain and potentially a risk to more traditional employers. Digital editor of tmrw magazine Catarina Ramalho states being multidisciplinary has not necessarily enhanced her work opportunities:
“A multidisciplinary is a hard thing to market. Even though [the industry] is headed that way, I have found multiple times that the people in charge of making the initial decisions in recruiting for such positions are not prepared to deal with it yet. Being of special relevance, if I’m dealing with someone in the hiring process that does not have a creative background. They are not able to understand my career path, and all the interchangeable skills I have developed in different sub-sectors that made me fit for the position I am applying to.”
London-based graphic designer, brand strategist and web developer PANAROUX is multidisciplinary by nature and force, maintaining his many disciplinary skill sets in his locker, but now chooses to streamline the fields he pursues:
“When I was 18, 19, even into my early 20’s, I took on jobs and projects under my false pretence of exercising a “multidisciplinary” status. I thought the key to creative financial success was really, being able to do anything. So, first I picked up a camera and learnt photography, began developing apps and websites, started messing around with short films, sought to design strategy, went to writing… it was an undisciplined pursuit of more. Not being a specialist in any made me vulnerable with high-value projects seeking production work. Sure, I could cover more disciplines – but my value output plateaued so much earlier than the next guy or girl who’d stuck to just three or four creative outputs he/she showed a passion in.”
For generalists, it is simply not in their code to marginalise themselves to one creative field. Take Virgil Abloh: a fashion designer, entrepreneur, architecture graduate & DJ (he has even started producing his songs) who knows no bounds. Of course, you have to start somewhere and with one field, but who’s to tell you otherwise and restrict you from spreading your wings? Would Kanye own a billion dollar company in YEEZY if he listened to people who told him not to pursue fashion? The creative industries are witnessing a surge of people taking up portfolio careers – obtaining two or more part-time jobs which delve into multiple fields. It’s a purposeful move too. In 2013, Deputy director of research Charlie Ball at careers website Prospects said, “only 20% of those with portfolio careers were doing so because they needed to take more than one job to make a living”. Which means 80% were doing it for the passion. Despite tactically streamlining his disciplines, productivity and freedom to express in multiple fields goes as far as soothing PANAROUX’s mental health:
“Subjectively, my anxiety & depression have been tamed by my ability to expel ideas from my head and pursue the notion of feeling worthwhile in a state of “productivity”. My Instagram bio is “I make things”, which describes exactly that. If it wasn’t true, I’m sure my mental health would suffer in ways I’ve never considered. I’m grateful I’m able to think and apply myself in more than one sole context. It’s a form of freedom for me.”
It is becoming less and less valuable to be good at, and dedicate yourself to, just one sole field – depending on your career path, your skills as a specialist risk being devalued in maybe five, ten or fifteen years. The media industry is an obvious example of this devaluation; Twitter’s influence is undeniable, its instant response to worldwide events has impacted the way we consume news and has impacted the distribution of traditional forms of journalism. Newspaper sales are in drastic decline, with digital formats relying on clickbait articles to generate high view counts, in exchange for advertisements – which still don’t cover costs, leading to workforce cutbacks. Journalists are not only having to take the role of a writer, but also act as a photographer, videographer and video editor in some cases.
The future of work is an adaptation to new technology. With new technological advances rapidly approaching every year, it’s essential creatives pick up multidisciplinary tools to get a head-start for the years ahead. Ramalho corroborates this:
“The future is going to be multidisciplinary. I think that creatives who are starting their careers now, the sooner that they tap into the tech world and get involved new tech such as augmented and virtual will undoubtedly help them in their professional development in the coming years.”
The world is moving at an exceedingly fast pace, with new ideas and groundbreaking companies being created every day, we have been forced to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of work; whether you’re a specialist or a generalist, if you don’t adapt now, you risk getting left behind.