I often get asked, “Tanya, how did you shift from being a filmmaker to a social entrepreneur and a product leader?” Some marvel, some wonder, and some doubt, but most overlook the cross-functional transferability of knowledge and expertise.
Like most things, being a generalist begins with your mindset. The science of neuroplasticity has made the functional application of a growth mindset evident. Believe in your ability to learn and develop new skills. Become actively curious, explore outside your comfort zone, and seek opportunities to learn. If you can, find a mentor, someone who has excelled in the new domain you’re exploring.
The science of neuroplasticity has made the functional application of a growth mindset evident.
A slight shift in perspective can go a long way. Instead of categorizing each experience based on its specific field, focus on its transferability to various contexts. Drawing from my distinct experiences one can say that Product leadership is a peculiar journey, and I often get asked how I managed to move from filmmaking to product leadership. For me, my professional journey is a page from The Surrender Experiment; thus, every move feels like a natural progression. However, on the outside, the roles of a filmmaker and a product leader seem vastly different. Thus, an interesting analogy to draw as we talk about developing a generalist mindset.
One of my favorite principles, it puts the customer at the center of it all. As a filmmaker, I learned to understand the targeted audience’s content-consuming behavior. I transferred this knowledge to product leadership by focusing on the targeted user’s problems and related behavior.
Vision & Strategy
Seldom does any effort bear fruit without a clear vision and plan of action. A movie director must have a clear vision for the story and a plan for bringing that story to life through a screenplay broken into shot lists, a filming roadmap, and shoot schedules. While a strong vision for the product and a thorough plan, including a set of hypotheses, user stories, wireframes, and product roadmaps, are essential for a product leader. The application is distinct, but the expertise is transferable.
Instead of categorizing each experience based on its specific field, focus on its transferability to various contexts.
Leading a Large and Diverse Team
People management and leadership are the most important skills you can hone, as their transferability is almost universal. In my example, both roles work with cross-functional teams and individuals from diverse backgrounds. As a filmmaker, I managed actors, light, sound, costume, set-designing crew, post-production teams, and channel expectations. In contrast, as a product leader, I manage researchers, content creators, product designers, developers, and stakeholder expectations.
People management and leadership are the most important skills you can hone, as their transferability is almost universal
Developing a generalist mindset is a valuable asset in today’s rapidly changing world. While we need plans and goals, more often than not, those plans fail, and all you have left is your ability to be agile, zoom out, look at the big picture, and work on creative solutions to solve complex problems.
In conclusion, becoming a generalist is more than just developing a broad range of skills and knowledge, it requires focusing on transferability, developing curiosity, and adaptability.