Dave made an important point, to say we are all generalists and specialists in different circumstances. I like the visualization but I feel like it doesn’t tell me what effect the different approaches produce. I don’t mean the outcome, but in how they approach it differently, what else is different other than breadth and depth?
I believe Generalists and Specialists approach defining goals, solving problems and designing solutions similarly. The difference is in what lenses they apply in the middle. In our quest to go from where we are to where we need to be we first diverge to seek options then we converge to find solutions. The Generalist goes for BREADTH when seeking options while the Specialist goes for DEPTH. The lens applied regulates how much they need to diverge and how soon they can converge to get to a solution.
In this very simplified white-board sketch I fail to convey the variability, but you could see how a generalist would stretch and go as wide as possible for options before converging into a direction to solve a problems, defining goals or designing solutions. The specialist, on the other hand, would likely not stretch as much but lengthen the process in his quest for depth.
Just a thought.
On somewhat but not entirely related topic, I really like Jared’s take on Specialist versus Generalist distinction in UX teams.