On Specialization

Doctors can go to school for nine years before practicing. You can't do anything in the arts without a masters degree. You can't get tenure without a PhD. The world is demanding specialization say the social oracles. Yet the computer industry is snatching up hackers with GED's by the thousands. And advanced research institutions are hiring laymen for fresh insight. People of little formal education are turning out award winning art. So who is right, the oracles or the nouveau managers? Neither! The need for specialists and generalists is variable.

The specialists have value in that they can accomplish predefined tasks within their skill set in short amounts of time. At least shorter than a generalist with less specialized training. But their weaknesses are 1) it takes a long time to prepare a specialist and 2) they are vulnerable to change.

The generalist has an ability to learn new tasks and jump between differing tasks. Their strengths are they can be produced in short periods of time (e.g. associates degree) and they are flexible to change. Their weakness is obviously that specialized tasks take them longer.

To say that one is better than the other is naive. As a leader, one should realize that at any given point their may be a demand (or no demand) for either. How useful is a PhD in fluid dynamics in the Sahara? But what good is chevy mechanic on an F16?

So then the astute reader will immediately see that balance is needed. Either balance in the individual that is part specialist, but flexible enough to generalize or balance in a team that is comprised of a carefully selected number of each type. The right or wrongness of the types isn't in selecting one or the other, but about balancing both to meet the demands of the situation.