Are We Generalists, Specialists or Speneralists?

I’m a speneralist, aren’t I? And you: aren’t you as well? I don’t know if that’s a good or bad characteristic these days. Maybe you can help me decide (because you need to know too). Let me explain.

speneralist
Photo: Tidewater Muse’s photostream

A Brief History of Our Species
A long time ago, most people were generalists. They knew how to hunt animals and cultivate the best plants, made living quarters out of mud, and maybe even painted on cave walls in their spare time or uttered poetic stories at night. They specialized of course, but in order to survive they had to be generalists. They had to know it all and do everything. Or die.

Then these generalists got better at refining their civilizations. Their economies sprouted up and out. They invented new gadgets, like printing presses and steam engines and assembly lines. To be good at something, these people had to become specialists. They had to specialize in printing books or navigating ships or installing gear shafts. Poets started to get paid less. Painters starved. And our modern world arrived like a thief in the night.

Our World Soul Got Owned
And this modern world brought forth more gadgets and grew things like computers and transmission protocols and weblogs and AdSense. Specialization became a specialization onto itself. And the unconscious manifestation of all this specialization was the invention in 1968 of the cubicle with its eventual domination of our Anima mundi (world soul).

We’re all now plugged in. Soon we will be enmeshed. Information is flowing so fast at us now, that we can’t depend on others to do specialized things like journalistic investigation. We have to specialize a bit in journalism and skepticism ourselves if we are not to be fooled again and again. We have to write our own blogs and tweak our CSS or compose our own slide shows for those special presentations. We are able to specialize in many things in order to accomplish our specialized tasks. But wait: doesn’t that make us generalists? What, exactly, is going on here?

Outsourcing Your Marketing Department to Your Customers
On one hand, in order to thrive in the economy of the 21st Century you must specialize, you must be better than best: you must be so damn good that your customers become your marketing department. Being a know-it-all doesn’t cut it. And yet you leave out so much of the life radiating around you when the very focus onto your specialty is laser-guided. You’re stuck in a trap my friend, or fast approaching one.

So, again, the question: we’re Speneralists, arent’ we? Isn’t that what you call a stressed out, Moore’s-Law-spaghettied group of human beings tweaked between the need for specialty and the widsom of generality?

Those two animals up there in the picture. What are they? Well, they’re both mammals. Is the dolphin the specialist whose evolved refinements enable her to sleekly fly in and out of ocean waves? Is the cow a generalist who learned to specialize in acquatic miracles and really good Photoshop? Or is she a speneralist? Evolution is a snappy bitch, ain’t it?

Long You Live and High You Fly
That cow. That cow is what we are beginning to look like I think, dear friends. A swimming cow that leaps over turbulent green. But should she be doing that? Is it cool? Or is it utterly nuts?

So, what do you think that you (or the company you work slave for) is? A generalist? A specialist? Or a speneralist ready for anything under the sun?

The dusk is coming. Will your personal or corporate philosophy open its wings, or fold?


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2 Comments

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