Leonardo da Vinci (probably self-portrait). source: Hebrew Wikipedia
I do not know if the terms I am using: Niche Consultant and All Around Consultant are the best terms to use.
If you think that other terms are more accurate, please comment. Anyway, I am trying to distinguish between two types of Professionals, Consultants, Scientists or Experts.
Most of them could be labeled as Niche experts: They know almost everything about a relatively narrow subject matter.
Leonardo da Vinchi (1452-1519), whose portrait appears right after the heading of this post, could not be depicted as a Niche expert. he is a classic example of The All Around type. I will quote the English Wikipedia: " ... Da Vinchi was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer".
Most, if not all, of the All Around Consultants' knowledge Subject Matters are very limited in comparison to the vast knowledge areas of a genius like Da Vinchi. However, usually their knowledge is a lot wider than the Niche Consultants' knowledge.
The difference between the two Consultants types could be roughly described as Wider Knowledge vs. Deeper Knowledge.
Advantages of Niche Consultant
The obvious advantage of a Niche Consultant is his experience. He acquired tremendous experience in the specific domain in which all, or at least most of the tasks, he performed are part of.
Another advantage is the knowledge he acquired while learning the Subject Matter and during execution of assignments in this Subject Matter.
If, and usually only if, the assignment is well defined within the boundaries of his expertise niche he could be a good candidate for performing the assignment.
Advantages of All Around Consultant
The main advantage of the All Around Consultant is his wide perspective.
Another advantage of the All Around Consultant is the capability to learn and understand new topics, systems, technologies etc.
This requirement is embedded in his Role. He will face new topics and new connections between topics and
has no other choice than learning them and acquire a certain level of understanding of them.
The Niche Consultant is obliged to learn only new approaches and technologies related to his narrow niche.
The assignments which are best fit for this Consultant type are assignments related to multiple domains, multiple Business issues and multiple applications and IT technologies.
It is not as simple as described above
It is not as simple as described above. I used the term "roughly" in the first paragraph intentionally.
Not every Niche Consultant knowledge is deeper than the knowledge of every All Around Consultant, even in his domain of knowledge.
Not every All Around Consultant is capable of generalizing from one case to another case and from one Niche to another.
Not every All Around Consultant us capable of grasping the "whole picture" i.e the relationships between domains, architectures, processes and Business issues which are related to a wide range assignment.
The Value Proposition of a Consultant is not determined only by individual differences. The assignment could be handled by a team including more than one consultant.
Another consultant could complement the skill set of a Niche Consultant and/or All Around Consultant.
In that case the Consultant's ability to work in a team could be a factor favoring one consultant or another consultant.
A Personal Note
I was fired in the age of 44 after more than twenty years I worked for a unit of a governmental ministry. When I was fired, the unit of the governmental bureau was completing a Privatization process.
After working as a Systems Group Manager, Systems Programmer and a Programmer, I started to work as an Independent IT Consultant.
I was a Niche expert in Mainframe MVS Operating System.
It was not easy to find assignments in my Niche, due to the following reasons:
1. People believed that the Mainframe is Dead. For more information read the post: Mainframe and the Dinosaurs Myth revisited. If you would read that post, you will probably discover that the Mainframe is not dead yet. At 2014 it celebrated its 50th year.
2. I was considered as too old for Information Technology assignments. Read the post: Information Technology: Are you out of Business if your age is above 50?
3. I was considered as overqualified for technical assignments
In order to earn money for the daily needs of my family (including three children) I had to work.
I found Consultancy assignments in other Niches. Each time I learned new Subject Matters, technologies, Architectures and various Organizational Cultures.
I adapted to a new form of Pareto principle: In few months understand and know more than 80% of the Niche Consultants working for years. This principle is applicable to any Niche you happened to get an assignment.
After few years of working according to the new form of Pareto Principle cited above, I was no longer a Niche Consultant but an All Around Information Technology Consultant.