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So I just wrote a lot about the perks of being a unicorn. There’s a little nuance I’d like to add to the discussion, however.

The widespread adoption of the term ‘unicorn’ is a little ironic, in that the slang originated around unrealistic job postings. Those unrealistic, shitty job posting are still there, probably because there’s no one to fill them.

But the word UNICORN in the UX and tech lexicon has mutated to mean someone who’s a generalist. Full stack. A designer who codes. A designer who does everything. EVERYTHING!!!

To be clear, I strive for personal unicorn-ness. But I also know there’s a line, and swear at roll my eyes at job postings that require both visual design and MongoDB.  Oh, I bet you would like to hire someone like that, and probably pay them 50K too!

We can proclaim with positivity that we should all learn everything until it rings off the mountains. But there has to be some line. There is a line. Where that line is is going to be personal to each person, depending on their own interests, passions, strength, and background. But it’s there. I urge you to sometimes push yourself over where you think the line is.  Test it. Push your own boundaries, and you may just surprise yourself. But I agree it’s there.

If you take the logic that we should all have as broad a skillset as possible to it’s natural end, why not just learn everything? Why not collaborate with noone? Why not just grow into some kind of Hulk-like creature that can design-build-market-support products and raise companies single-handed-ly?

Well, you could. Kudos to you and your green skin if you have those skills! And even more kudos, if you actually do.

But… there are some things to be had from collaborating with others: 

Diversity of viewpoints

Even if you have all the skills, it can take someone outside of you to show you the obvious, what you’re missing, what you’re blind to from staring so long. Also, every individual’s unique background gives them their own lens. And I ardently believe—and research has shown—that more viewpoints make better products.

Adventures are more fun with companions

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m very much on the introvert train, but having partners and a team can help in some intangible ways. Partners can keep you accountable, get you through low points, and celebrate with you for the high points.

Big Guns

While I argued already that you don’t trade the opportunity to get deeper for the opportunity to develop breadth, I do believe there are only so many things you can get truly deep in. At least, it’s limited somewhat by time. So while I can learn to code, bang out a twitching prototype, and learn a ton that will make me more effective in the process, I’m not going to be as good at performance, architecture, and building something maintainable as the software engineer sitting next to me—at least not for quite some time. So it’s important to learn to recognize when a twitchy prototype will do and when to collaborate with someone deeper than you.

So I hope that adds some nuance to the unicorn argument. I’ll continue to sing the praises of the Order of Generalists. But, you know, we all got limits. What would you add to the great unicorn debate?

Unicorn n22 kerry“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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