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COMMENTARY: One learns to appreciate perspective as he grows

After changing my mind about my major in computer science during my first semester at Rutgers, I entered the Rutgers Business School. I was high on hope and low on any sort of idea of what to expect. What ensued was an interesting period in my life where I changed majors again, from business, analytics and information technology (BAIT) to finance. I ultimately transferred back to the School of Arts and Sciences.

I now study economics with a minor in business administration. Though the Rutgers Business School story is another matter entirely, I would like to share something I learned in business school with anyone who’d care to listen. This is not about how to view pivot tables or what the BCG Matrix explains, it is about something I heard fleetingly, something that hasn’t escaped my mind ever since.

One might think “I study art,” “I do dance” or “I practice biology,” "what’s an economics student going to teach me?" Mostly all Rutgers Business Students or even some non-business students would remember this "Intro to Management" course at Rutgers taught by Director of Management Education Denis Hamilton. I took this course with my feet-on-the-front-seat sort of attitude as I had taken a similar course in high school. But this time, the class I had deemed as "common sense" seemed more actual common sense than ever. Regardless, at some point during the class, in some book that I don’t recall the name of, I read a phrase: “Entrepreneurs are in most cases generalists, not specialists.”

From that day to this day, I find myself repeating this phrase in college essays, to fellow students and even in my “self” pitch to prospective employers. The simplicity of the phrase and the essential idea of it can be found in numerous books and articles on the internet. However, I still think it is worth mentioning again because it’s that important.

This would be the moment where readers would again protest, “I don’t want to be an entrepreneur how does this apply to me?” or “I have no interest in business how does this apply to my art?” The reason why this phrase has been ingrained in my thought process in regards to anyone’s life goals is that it talks about something that you recognize only when you see it: perspective.

In a world so utterly consumed by specialization, I may seem slightly manic to suggest that the thing that I remember and what I suggest you remember by proxy, is that in this workplace landscape one needs to be generally adept at knowing things and not especially.

Thus, let me explain why that is the case. Let us assume (this is a big assumption) that you want to achieve something, small or big, but something that makes someone think this is why I hired this person or admire this person or something of the sort.

A specialist in most cases focuses on the particular, the nitty-gritty and will deeply enamor himself in his or her work. A generalist, however, will in most cases have an upper hand. These generalists will have knowledge of other fields of study, will have other ideologies floating in their mind and will because of this, always be removed from the project.

What I would claim is that removal, that bird's eye view, that essential perspective is what creates the truly commendable.

These generalists are the ones that solve the problems that even specialists cannot fix. Because they cannot see them, not in the way they do.

I mentioned art, dance and biology because these subjects and mostly all subjects are always only furthered by the pursuit of new perspectives powered by the engine of generality. Steve Jobs took a calligraphy course he had not registered for, and this became the basis of the (then) revolutionary Macintosh interface. Countless artists recall how a fleeting moment, a spec of information, a simple idea, became the pearl to their masterpieces.

In the end, the phrase to me is not remembered by the ideas of generality or specialty or even entrepreneurship. In the end, it has become about so much more, because that is what my perspective enables me to do.

Shariq Babar is a School of Arts and Sciences fourth-year majoring in economics. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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