Normally when eating out I don’t venture into salad territory because it doesn’t seem filling to me. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the world of salad bars - being able to add edamame, beets, carrots, grapes, fresh croutons, and more - was a game changer. Although it can be a bit daunting at first, the number of possibilities makes it hard to get old.
When I had salad at home it was a side dish and, since we don’t prepare on the scale of a restaurant, this usually consisted of plain lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers — and maybe some walnuts when we felt fancy. This is not to say we don’t eat veggies, just that we never could make a salad that could stand up as a meal on its own.
Food is no longer just a means of survival; it is a way to celebrate culture, tradition, and creativity. Recipes are passed down generations, some relentlessly refined, others persistently preserved. New recipes are always being developed and even the definition of what constitutes a meal is always evolving (although not always for the better).
How did we get restaurants that specialized in salads? One possible explanation is that entrepreneurs experiment with new ideas and see whether it sticks. Salad bars weren’t a thing until only a few decades ago which mainly catered to the health-conscious population. Recently there has been a surge in supposedly healthy foods (remember the kale superfood?) but in a way, whether these foods are healthy or not isn’t important. Instead, the fact that people are making a conscious effort of trying to live a healthy lifestyle means they are more likely to pay attention all aspects of their life1. This trend has allowed more restaurants to offer their own take on the salad bar concept.
Specialization also occurs in companies. Early-stage startups must be competitive with only a handful of people. Co-founders often split the work with one focusing on business development while the other in technology. As the company grows, new employees are hired to further specialize in each area: salespeople, marketeers, mobile engineers, data scientists, etc. These new hires are more knowledgeable, experienced, and efficient at their specialization. Working together, they can build products that the same number of generalists cannot.
I first heard about this term a few years ago at Joist as a way to describe the depth and breadth of knowledge that someone has (vertical and horizontal lines of a T respectively). Here’s one description: being a domain expert (depth) means you can teach a whole university course, whereas having a lot of foundational knowledge (breadth) is like being able to give a hundred 5-min lightning talks.
It can be satisfying to be the domain expert as there’s a feeling of accomplishment and mastery. However being knowledgeable in a variety of areas makes it easier to communicate with others and can make it easier to grasp new concepts by relating to previous knowledge.
This article does a good job of explaining how the t-shaped concept is applied to teams. However, understanding our own self and determining the best way to improve can be challenging. We are all constrained by time and energy when deciding where to focus. One helpful tip is to only concentrate studying topics of personal interest because curiosity and passion is what keeps us going through challenges. On the other hand, trying new things, even just briefly, helps broaden your view. This might sound like a lot of commitment but remember, breadth of knowledge can be just dipping your toe in the water - at least now you know whether or not it is for you.
All of this is just to say that the base for a good salad starts with lots of greens, but it’s crucial to have a good mix of additional toppings for colour, texture, flavour, pizaz.
1 ↩ And now we can get special blue-tinted glasses because we look at our screens too much because we are so focused on specialization.
Special thanks to Jonathan Truong, Sneha Patel for reading previous drafts and providing feedback.