Specialization Vs. Generalization & Renaissance

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert A. Heinlein

It all started when strategy moved from military war rooms to the corporate board rooms. The “general” commanded the force. Now you know why he was not a specialist. Many CEOS and founders are technically generalists and not specialists, just like the partners of big firms – they have plenty of android like minions doing the work for them.

It’s very difficult not to get bored, especially if you have a varied set of interests. While the debate continues for generalization vs specialization – I thought a bit about a proper definition (because we like putting ourselves in boxes, when we’re supposed to think outside the box) – and Renaissance probably defined it best for me – a person who has a diverse set interests, and dives well into each.

I’m not sure whether you can add enlightened to that, but by virtue of being well-rounded – you have a better perspective on things, where a specialized person may just be too narrow focused.

Specialization might get you in, but generalization might get the job done. When you hear of studies or surveys, that specialists get paid more. It could be true, yet still wrong. They get paid more in comparison to those on the same level. But there is another group above them, CEOs, top management – for them, they are competing on another level.

This whole debate of generalist vs. specialist could have arisen from shallow quotes such as:

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Yet, Jack knew jack-shit. He couldn’t become master of anything. His problem was more due to lack of practice, be it 10,000 hours or deliberate. And here’s the hard truth. A generalist can survive any environment, a specialist has a very good chance of becoming extinct. But that also means because the world is so competitive, not specialising in something can make life difficult, at least to start with.

Why I believe the Renaissance person is different from the generalist is that he not only knew a diverse set subjects, but knew each subject well-enough.

So why am I thinking over all this, well for a start – it’s a new year, and you need to think differently. Right now, I’ll be making an attempt to document progress, and publish on a more frequent basis – and while I have the intention, that is not enough. But let’s put on a challenge for 365 days to see how long this can go on.