In bad times, it pays to be versatile. Just ask Bo Jackson.
Cross-training is a major asset during times of flux. If you’re looking for a job, you’d better have a wide variety of skills. If you’re hiring, search for cross-trained athletes.
During booms, stability tends to prevail, and markets seem predictable. Given those circumstances, the right strategy to optimize returns is to specialize. Specialization lets you become more efficient at a particular activity, whether in sports or in business.
For example, you might become a trade show specialist that excels at making your company the talk of the convention. And if you’re running a company, you’ll do your best to carefully organize your company into discrete areas of responsibility that you can staff with specialists.
But when the boom ends and continuous change becomes the main characteristic of the business environment, specialization can spell your doom. In times like these, the rules are constantly changing, and those careful processes you spent years honing may become useless overnight.
If you’re the VP Marketing at a startup, and you’re a trade show specialist, you are screwed. If you can’t turn on a dime and suddenly become an SEM jockey, or a lead gen guru, you’ll soon be out of a job.
Conversely, if you’re a jack-of-all trades who has been square-pegged into a round hole, now’s you’re chance to shine. Tackle the problems that no one else in the company wants to face, secure in the knowledge that you’ll learn how along the way.
But remember, just as it’s unwise to act as though the boom will never end, it’s also foolish to believe that the bust will last forever. Take advantage of this time to build up your knowledge of new specialties so you’ll be ready to switch strategies when the economic cycle turns once again.